Middle East


And now let's report on a trial by fire. It's on the border between Egypt and Israel, on the Sinai Peninsula. Militants on the Egyptian side this week attacked that border, killed Egyptian soldiers and made it into Israel before they were hit by Israeli forces. Egypt's armed forces responded to the assault with airstrikes against the militants. Israel is welcoming that, though Israelis are still concerned about the intentions of Egypt's new government. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from just over the Israeli side of the border.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: On one side are the Egyptian soldiers, dressed in black. On the other are Israeli security forces. The two are separated by less than a football field in length. Here on this section of the border between Egypt and Israel there's no fence left after militants blew it up on Sunday night.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm standing at the border between Egypt and Israel, where the attack took place only a few days ago. And what we are seeing at the moment are soldiers that are extremely jumpy. Even though this was a coordinated trip, the soldiers are asking us to leave because it's still extremely tense here.

COLONEL MIRI EISIN: It's a closed military area and he wants us to go on out because of the events that happened here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israeli Reserve Intelligence officer Colonel Miri Eisin says though that it's not just Sunday's incident that has left Israel wary.

EISIN: For the last year this border has become a much more tense border than it was in the past. It used to a border that you came along and you took your car, and you drove along for a scenic route. And now, you go along, you see the tension that the soldiers themselves are in. This was a very big, well-planned, even well-executed attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Israelis say they're expecting even more infiltrations from the area.

Military officials here publicly welcomed Egypt's Sinai offensive. But privately they question if there is real resolve in Egypt to get the job done. Of increasing concern are calls in Egypt to renegotiate the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. Originally signed in 1979, the military portion of the agreement came into effect in 1982. It stipulates how many troops and heavy armor the two sides can maintain in the Sinai and the border region.

ITZHAK LEVANON: My question is: What is the need and the benefit in opening this. If the objective is to have more forces, more policemen on the ground, (unintelligible) they have it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Itzhak Levanon was Israel's ambassador to Egypt up until last year. He says that Israel has approved every request so far to move security forces and equipment into the Sinai. He says there is good coordination between the two countries on an operational level, and so no need to change the military annex part of the agreement.

A current Israeli diplomatic official tells NPR that Israel is worried that if any portion of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty is renegotiated the entire thing could come up for discussion. And that could unravel what has been a lynchpin of regional security for over 30 years.

Michael Hanna is an Egypt specialist with the Century Foundation. He says talk in Egypt of renegotiating the agreement is motivated by domestic politics. He says the agreement is not the problem in the Sinai.

MICHAEL HANNA: It's unclear to me that that has been the main stumbling block, as opposed to the question of political will. And that seems to me to be the more problematic obstacle at the moment, with respect to Egypt dealing with this issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ambassador Levanon says the expectation in Israel is that Egypt will forcefully clean up the Sinai once and for all, without making any changes to the accord.

LEVANON: My hope is that the Egyptian military, the Egyptian officials, and the Egyptian presidency and government will continue on. Because this is the mutual interest of the Israeli and the Egyptian, to restore the peninsula as a safe base and a stable base.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the meantime, though, Israel has bolstered its defenses along that troubled border.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro NPR NEWS

INSKEEP: We're also tracking a milestone in Libya. The National Transitional Council gave up power last night. That's the group of former Libyan rebels who've been running the country since Mohammar Gadhafi was driven out of the capital and later killed. In a ceremony, the Council transferred control to Libya's first elected assembly. This is the first peaceful transfer of power in the history of the country. Instead of hostile gunfire, fireworks lit the sky. The head of the Transitional Council went out with a conciliatory speech. Though Libyans recently fought a civil war, he declared, we forgive those who harmed us.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from