Egypt-Israel accord may change over Sinai raids

An injured Israeli soldier is wheeled into Soroka hospital in the southern town of Beersheva, Israel, Friday, Sept 21, 2012, following an exchange of fire with militants along Israel's southern border with Egypt. AP Photo/Yehuda Lahiyani

(AP) JERUSALEM - Israeli officials said Sunday they would resist any Egyptian attempts to reopen the military arrangements under the countries' historic peace deal, despite the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

But following a series of attacks staged by militants in the Sinai, including a raid that killed an Israeli soldier last week, Israel may have no choice but to allow Egypt to beef up its forces in the largely demilitarized border area.

Friday's shooting is likely to fuel new Egyptian calls to reopen the peace treaty. In recent years, as shadowy militant groups have grown more active in the Sinai, Egyptian security officials have said they need to be allowed more firepower to bring the area under control. Ansar Jerusalem, a group inspired by al-Qaida that is hostile to both Israel and Egypt, claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

For now, Israel is standing tough. Israel's hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Sunday that Israel would not agree to reevaluate the terms of the peace deal.

"There is no chance that Israel will agree to any kind of change," he told Israel Radio. "The Egyptians shouldn't try to delude themselves or delude others, and they should not rely on this demand."

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Lieberman said troop strength was not the issue and suggested the Egyptian military was just not prepared to tackle the challenge.

"The problem in Sinai is not the size of the forces, it is their readiness to fight, to put pressure and to carry out the job as is needed," he said.

The 1979 peace accord, the first between Israel and an Arab country, has been a foundation for regional stability for three decades.

For Egypt, it brought the return of the Sinai, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, and access to American aid and weapons. For Israel, it allowed the military to divert precious resources to volatile fronts with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.

This arrangement, however, has been jolted by the growing unrest in the Sinai since an uprising toppled longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year. Friday's attack was the third deadly border raid since Mubarak's ouster.

Israeli jitters have been heightened by Egypt's election this year of a president from the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi. The Islamist group, cool to Israel, has said that Egypt will continue to abide by the accord. At the same time, it has repeatedly called for changes in the treaty's limits on troops in Sinai, seen as humiliating.

Behind the tough Israeli rhetoric, there are already signs of change. Under the agreement, Egypt is limited to light police functions in a roughly 20-mile (30-kilometer) strip of the Sinai next to Israel's border. In many cases, these forces have been outgunned by militants equipped with heavy weapons, rockets and mortars.

On several occasions, Israel has allowed the Egyptians to bring in extra troops, most recently after militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in an Aug. 5 clash.

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