Sinai now a focus for terrorist buildup

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By Rabbi Dow Marmur

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM — Recently, Ruth Lapidot, retired professor of international law who had participated in formulating the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, gave this year’s David Elazar Memorial Lecture under the auspices of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that the late professor Elazar founded.

 Her lucid and comprehensive presentation was reassuring. Not only did she implicitly agree with those who say that, given the present upheavals in their country, the Egyptians aren’t likely to break the agreement, but she also showed that the treaty is solid in its provisions and likely to last after Mubarak.

But that doesn’t remove the danger from the south. Jim Lederman, the most astute and authoritative analyst of the Middle East I know, gave a lecture in Jerusalem a few days later in which he told his audience about what’s really going on in Sinai now.

He reminded those present that in the peace treaty with Egypt, Sinai was largely demilitarized to prevent attacks from there of the kind Israel had been subjected to in earlier years. The area is roughly three times the size of Israel but has a population of no more than 430,000 of whom 300,000 are Beduin who’re indigenous to the region.

 In Israel’s opinion, those living in Sinai didn’t constitute a security threat. Therefore, the border was only marked by some barbed wire and guarded by few mobile patrols on each side. To save money,Israel didn’t bother to build a proper protective fence or wall. Tourists moved freely in and out of the hotels on the Gulf of Aqaba.

But now the area has become a haven for smugglers. Many of the locals engaged in that trade are said to have become wealthy as large quantities of arms – some even looted in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi – are being brought over to Gaza for use by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Prostitutes from the former Soviet Union in search of work and hapless Africans seeking asylum are also being taken across to Israel in tunnels dug under the barbed wire. The trade, according to Lederman, is worth about $300 million a year.

Of late yet another element has complicated the situation. The area has been infiltrated by radical Islamists from Egypt and Gaza. With arms freely available, a local terrorism industry has developed in Sinai. Though the smugglers prefer peace, the ideologues have militancy, particularly against Israel, in mind.

All this has turned Sinai into a danger zone and a potential headache forIsrael.Israe lhas even offered to ease the restrictions in the peace treaty that greatly limit the presence of Egyptian forces there. But Egypt, having troubles of its own and, of course, not minding causing grief to Israe lwithout going to war, hasn’t been willing to oblige.

 Jim Lederman reported: “Israelhas belatedly decided to build a 5.5. meter high fence, equipped with an array of electronic devices along the 240 kilometer border, and to strengthen its military presence both on the land and in the Gulf of Aqaba. “The cost is estimated at 1.35 billion shekels (some $400 million).

Though Professor Lapidot was right to reassure us that the peace treaty with Egypt is solid, she obviously didn’t reckon with the infiltration of terrorists into Sinai and the dire consequences, particularly forIsrael.

As I’ll read in this week’s Torah portion about God’s revelation at Sinai, I’ll find it difficult not to think of the human destruction that could now come from there.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  Now dividing his time between Canada and Israel, he may be contacted at [email protected]

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