Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday said he expected the Egyptian army to withdraw its reinforcements from the Sinai Peninsula at the end of its operation to root out Islamist militants.
“They must act against terror and if they have to bring in troops, let them do so. And when it ends, they must take them out,” Barak said in an interview with Israel’s army radio.
“I assume that is what they will do. We will wait and see.”
He said Israel had “several reservations” over Egypt’s deployment of reinforcements in the lawless peninsula, some of which fell outside the terms of the 1979 peace treaty which limits the number of Egyptian troops there.
“We have several reservations over the fact it breaches some of the practical dimensions (of the treaty) in terms of deployment and coordination, which require reaching an understanding,” he said.
“We are working towards reaching understandings,” he said.
“We hope that an understanding will take shape between us and the Egyptians that this is the way to work,” he said.
Egypt began an unprecedented military operation in the peninsula earlier this month after militants killed 16 Egyptian border police in northern Sinai in a deadly attack on August 5.
While Israel welcomed the move, many commentators have raised fears that the temporary presence of large numbers of troops in Sinai, in contravention of the peace treaty’s military appendix, could become permanent — spelling trouble for the Jewish state.
But Barak dismissed such fears.
“I’m not a party to such alarm,” he said. “We have to act responsibly: where there is an infringement, we must act to set it right. There’s no place for making a fuss but for holding direct contacts with the right elements in Egypt, and that is what we are doing.”
Last week, an Israeli newspaper said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sent sent a sharply-worded message to Cairo via Washington calling for the immediate removal of Egyptian tanks deployed in northern Sinai.
The premier also demanded that Egypt stop bringing troops into the peninsula without prior coordination with Israel, which constituted a “serious breach of the peace agreement,” a high-ranking Israeli source told the paper.