By Jonathan S. Tobin
In May 1967, the withdrawal of peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula set in motion a series of events that led to war. But those who think such a move in May 2020 would have similar consequences, or really any at all, are living in the past.
Yet as far as some observers are concerned, a Trump administration proposal to withdraw American troops from the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) who are part of the peacekeeping troops that monitor the border between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula is a shocking move that could undermine the peace treaty they are tasked with enforcing.
For decades, such a move would have been unthinkable. The Sinai was the staging ground for Egypt’s invasion of Israel in 1948 and the scene of battle between the two nations in 1956, 1967 and 1973.
The 1979 treaty signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sought to end that cycle of war, though the peace it created was fragile and cold. Begin gambled not merely on Sadat’s sincerity, but on the idea that Egyptians were tired of fighting in a war to destroy Israel that was not in their interests.
Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, kept the bargain, if for no other reason than to keep receiving billions in American aid that was part of the treaty.
Throughout the last 40 years, American troops have been a big part of the MFO that guaranteed the peace. The U.S. contingent is made up of several hundred soldiers in a unit that also contains forces from 13 other countries. However, the situation in the Sinai in 2020 is far different from the one that existed there in past decades when the MFO truly could be said to have kept the peace.
The current Egyptian government led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is closely aligned with Israel. While the Egyptian people may still remain hostile to Jews, the military government that el-Sisi leads looks to the Jewish state as an ally against a mutual enemy: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Hamas terrorist movement that governs Gaza is an offshoot of the Islamist group whose leaders ran Egypt for a year following the fall of Mubarak during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. El-Sisi letters to the editor voices led the popular coup that deposed the Brotherhood’s government in 2013 and has brutally repressed the Islamists ever since.
Like other Sunni Arab nations, Egypt sees Israel as an ally since the United States abandoned its interests by agreeing to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Egyptians also not unreasonably blame Obama and America for the brief ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012-13 since it was he who helped push out Mubarak.
The Sinai peacekeepers are obsolete. The MFO is no long separating potential combatants, but is instead an innocent spectator to an Egyptian effort to eradicate terrorism while Israelis cheer them on. What the international community needs to do in the Sinai is to get out of the way of the Egyptians, not separate them from Israel.
It’s possible that a day will come in the future when Egypt might once again threaten Israel. But if and when that day comes, the MFO won’t do any more to protect the Jewishstate than other peacekeepers on its borders. The only guarantee of Israel’s security is the strength of the Israel Defense Forces, not the presence of foreign soldiers who
are far from home and have no stake in the conflict.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.