While the international media is all abuzz with reports that Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only agreed to the truce with Palestinians in Gaza if President Obama agreed to send U.S. troops into Sinai to stop the smuggling of arms from Iran into Gaza, Egypt is strenuously denying the story, saying it would never allow U.S. troops to be stationed in its country.
The reports on Sinai originated on the Israeli Debka website, which cited sources alleging that Netanyahu only agreed to a truce because Obama promised to start deploying U.S. troops in Sinai next week. According to Debka, the American troops would serve to cut off the military supplies being sent to Hamas in Gaza by the Iranians.
“Once the missile and arms consignments depart Iranian ports or Libyan arms bazaars, Tehran has no direct control of their transit from point to point through Egypt until they reach Sinai and their Gaza destination,” Debka reports. “All the same, a US special forces operation against the Sinai segment of the Iranian smuggling route would count as the first overt American military strike against an Iranian military interest.”
But Mohamed El-Keshky, Egypt’s Military Attaché in Washington, said in statements that there are no plans or even intentions to deploy U.S. troops in Sinai. He stressed that Egypt has not approved and will never approve the presence of foreign troops on its lands.
He added that the only non-Egyptian troops allowed in Sinai are the UN peacekeeping forces.
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The Sinai Peninsula is an especially sensitive region to the Egyptians, religiously because of the presence of Mt. Sinai—the site where Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments from God, which is a monumental event in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions—and geographically because it sits between Egypt and Israel and abuts the Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Egypt only regained control of Sinai from the Israelis after the bloody Yom Kippur War in the 1970s and the signing of a peace treaty in 1979, so it is seen as unlikely that a nation as proud and sensitive as Egypt would allow the U.S. to have a permanent military presence in a place so important to Egypt’s self-image.
Acording to Debka, Pres. Obama made a deal over the phone with Netanyahu on Wednesday morning, ending a conflict that killed 166 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, and six Israelis.
The stopping of arms from Iran is considered a key factor in the truce holding. Egypt has promised to close off the hundreds of tunnels used by Gazans to brings goods—and arms, according to Israel—into Gaza to supply the 1.7 million Palestinians living there.
With Israel and Egypt severely restricting the movement of both people and goods into and out of Gaza on both sides, Gazans rightly feel imprisoned, without adequate food and healthcare and very little employment and activities for their young men—which is a quick way of radicalizing them. After the 2008 campaign in which Israel killed 1,400 Gazans and reduced much of the region to rubble, Palestinians weren’t even allowed to bring enough materials into Gaza to rebuild. It is holding these angry young men in check that will be the key to any truce. When Gazans have been allowed to cross the borders in past years, only men under 18 and over 60 were allowed to move freely.