U.S. wants to pull its troops out of Sinai peacekeeping force

Defense Secretary Mark Esper revives plan despite apparent Israeli objections to end American participation in the peace force set up following the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wants to end American participation in the international peacekeeping it helped establish in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to police the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, a published report said Thursday.

Pentagon officials said Esper is looking to make better use pf American defense assets and that the possible troop withdrawal from the peace force that has been in place for four decades is part of a worldwide cost-cutting review, the Wall Street Journal reported.

It’s not the first time the Pentagon has looked at pulling out from the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) that currently numbers some 1,100 soldiers from 12 additional countries, including Canada, Columbia, Fiji, New Zealand, France and Italy. The peacekeepers were set up in 1981 by agreement of Israel, Egypt and the United States when it was felt the UN would not be able to do the job.

In 2016, the Americans pulled out some 350 troops from the MFO, reducing its contingent to roughly 400 soldiers.

Officials in both the State Department and Israel object to the move, saying it would weaken the peacekeeping mission as Egypt battles Islamic State terrorists there and reduces oversight of the Egyptian military.

Israel has given permission for Egypt to have a much larger military force in the Sinai than is allowed under the 1979 peace treaty, in order to battle the Islamic terrorists. Both countries have expressed appreciation to the Americans for their continued presence in the embattled peninsula.

An IS attack last month killed 10 Egyptian soldiers and thousands have died in terror attacks that began in 2011. Although the MFO troops have tried to keep a low profile, they have been targeted by terrorists several times over the years.

“Though its mission isn’t about ISIS, the MFO is de facto the last independent monitor of the hidden conflict in Sinai, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced amid brutal attacks by ISIS and heavy Egyptian army shelling,” WSJ journalist Jared Malsin tweeted.

Neither Israel, Egypt, the Pentagon, the State Department nor the MFO responded to a request for comments from the newspaper.

Although President Trump has said he wants to pull U.S. troops out of conflicts in the Middle East, last fall the Pentagon presented him with plans to send thousands of additional troops to the region.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, spoke with his Israeli counterpart, IDF chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the IDF said on Thursday, although no details of the call were released.