Egypt's Sinai turning into "Wild West" - Israeli PM
Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:03am GMT
By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has turned into a "kind of
Wild West" exploited by Islamist militants with Iranian help to smuggle in
weapons and stage attacks on Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said
The open desert border between Israel and Egypt was relatively quiet for
three decades after they signed a peace treaty in 1979. But the Jewish state
says that since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising last year,
Cairo has lost its grip on the desolate Sinai and tensions are rising.
Earlier this month, Israel said a rocket fired from the Sinai hit its Red
Sea resort of Eilat, causing no injuries. Last August, cross-border
infiltrators shot dead eight Israelis and Israeli soldiers repelling the
attack accidentally killed five Egyptian guards.
"The Sinai is turning into a kind of Wild West which ... terror groups from
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, with the aid of Iran, are using to
smuggle arms, to bring in arms, to mount attacks against Israel," Netanyahu
told Israel Radio.
"We are acting against this reality and we are in ... continuous discussions
with the Egyptian government, which is also troubled by this," said
Iran denies supporting militants against its arch-enemy.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted as saying on Sunday
that the situation in Egypt was more worrying than what was happening in
Iran, and called for a significant boost to troop numbers along the southern
In an apparent riposte, Egypt's interim military ruler, Field Marshal
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, cautioned on Monday against any interference along
the long desert frontier.
"Our borders, especially the northeast ones, are inflamed. We do not attack
neighbouring countries but will defend our territory," Egypt's state news
agency MENA quoted him as saying.
"We will break the legs of anyone trying to attack us or who come near the
He spoke just hours after Egypt unexpectedly terminated a deal to sell
natural gas to Israel, although leaders in both countries have been quick to
stress it was a business rather than a political issue.
"The stopping of the agreement is a result of a commercial dispute between
the Egyptian company and a private Israeli company," Netanyahu said on
To fend off infiltration, Israel is building a fence along the border with
Egypt that it hopes to complete by the end of 2012. When finished, the
barrier will run most of the 266 km (165 miles) from Eilat up to the Gaza
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which does not recognise Israel's
existence, controls Gaza and is looking to forge close ties with Islamist
parties that recently triumphed in Egypt's parliamentary elections.
Netanyahu said he hoped Egypt's new rulers would continue to abide by the
historic peace treaty. "I hope that the next government will understand that
this is in Egyptian interests no less than it is in Israeli interests," he
Egypt has paid an economic price for the lawlessness in Sinai. The pipeline
exporting natural gas to both Jordan and Israel has been blown up more than
a dozen times in the last year, while its Red Sea resorts have seen a drop
Israel's counter-terrorism bureau renewed a warning on Sunday, urging
Israelis not to travel to the Sinai because of intelligence warnings of
planned militant attacks.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Tue Apr 24 2012 - 12:36:38 EDT