Militants operating in the Sinai breached Israel’s borders for the second time in six weeks on Friday. One soldier was killed during the latest incursion, prompting demands that Egypt do more to reign in groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
Mohammed Mursi acted swiftly last time militants crossed into Israel, but insists his hands are now tied. Tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai make the peninsula hard to govern while the terms of the 1979 peace agreement make it is a demilitarised zone. The absence of an effective military presence there has allowed Islamists to use the area as a springboard for attacks against Israel.
It would not be unprecedented for Egyptian forces to enter the area. After last month’s attack, Egypt sent its army into the area with Israeli permission. Indeed, it is known that Israeli intelligence worked closely with their Egyptian counterparts, directing and assisting their operation against Islamists operating in the Sinai.
This is where Israel must choose between the undesirable and unfavourable. The deteriorating situation in the Sinai has already claimed lives on its side of the border. Yet, hawks within Netanyahu’s cabinet are deeply opposed to the idea of allowing Egyptian forces to enter the Sinai on a semi-permanent basis to address ongoing problems there.
The alternatives are equally unhealthy. Israel is no position to reoccupy the Sinai, meaning if it continues to block Egyptian requests then it must continue to guard against sporadic attacks. That, coupled with ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza will hardly placate domestic security concerns. If more lives are lost in the process, the status quo will not hold.
Israel must now make some difficult choices, adapting to the contours of a rapidly changing region. Whatever it decides it is clear that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty can no longer survive in its current form.