July 31, 2002
Pentagon Plans To Reduce Sinai Observer Force
By Janine Zacharia
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has summoned Israeli and Egyptian officials for a
trilateral meeting Thursday to discuss how it plans to reconfigure the
American peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert, US and Israeli sources
The Israeli delegation will be led by Defense Ministry Director-General Amos
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has for over a year made clear that he
wants to see the American mission in the Sinai end in order to free up badly
needed troops for other US-led military missions.
Egypt and Israel both oppose any change in the status quo. The State
Department has also cautioned that tough times in the Middle East make this
an inauspicious time to leave the area.
Nevertheless, US sources said Rumsfeld is still intent on removing the vast
majority of the 900 American peacekeepers and leaving behind a symbolic
headquarters. "He wants to kill it entirely, but will settle for a massive
reduction," one US official said.
Earlier this year, Rumsfeld said: "I do not believe that we still need our
forces in the Sinai." The American troops in the Sinai make up the bulk of
the Multinational Force and Observers, an independent international
peacekeeping and verification organization established by Egypt and Israel
to monitor the security arrangements after their 1979 peace treaty.
The cost of the MFO is evenly shared by Israel, Egypt, and the US, each
contributing $15 million per year, as well as smaller donations by Germany,
Japan, and Switzerland. The MFO staffs 13 checkpoints and 17 observation
points in Sinai along the Egypt-Israel border.
Besides the trilateral discussions, each side will also hold bilateral
talks. The US-Israeli talks will focus among other issues on Israel's bid to
participate in development of the Joint Strike Fighter, America's 21st
century fighter jet, which will succeed the F-16 and other models.
There is no question that Israel will be allowed to purchase the jet at some
point, sources say. But by participating in production, it would guarantee
that Israel will be among the first countries eligible to acquire the jet.
Israel would also like to have some of its advanced technology incorporated
and have input into the design.
The UK, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Turkey have already
signed on to the project. The JSF is expected to be completed within 10
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