On March 26, 1979, Egypt and Israel officially ended the state of war by signing the Camp David treaty. More than three decades later, and particularly on August 18 after the Eilat terrorist operation, the two states went back to the most heightened of military tension which triggered the beating of war drums in both Cairo and Tel Aviv.
There is no doubt that several political tensions have characterized the relationship between the two countries throughout the past decades. It was easy to calm though, due to the presence in Cairo of a ruling regime that was not inspired in its decisions by the street or impacted by it or concerned about its reactions.
This time Israel made a miscalculation when it assumed that Cairo would not react furiously to the killing of several Egyptian soldiers in the aftermath of the Eilat operation. This time it is up against a popular revolution that puts pressure on decision makers and shapes their policies.
The Camp David treaty will be the main target and not just in Egypt. In Israel, there are many extremists and members of the opposition who see that treaty having been rendered void by the Eilat operation. The statements made by Netanyahu and Barak to the effect that Sinai is no longer under Egyptian control constitute a threat that Israeli forces can invade and reoccupy the peninsula.
Wisdom dictates that the Camp David treaty be implemented with a new approach and not be buried back to the pre-1979 state of affairs.
According to the treaty, an area that covers approximately two thirds of Sinai remains unarmed and in Zone C, across the border from Rafah to Taba, only limited numbers of lightly armed Egyptian civilian police forces are allowed to be stationed.
Disarmament is not new to Sinai and was mentioned in the treaty for the first time. It was, in fact, previously approved by Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the aftermath of the 1956 war, but new arising circumstances necessitate that the two countries revisit the issue. Egyptian authorities with their current status will not be able to face heavily armed groups operating in those vast and rugged areas.
Israel needs to know that a powerful presence of Egyptian military forces is necessary for securing its borders, for armed militants have throughout the past two weeks been targeting Egyptian soldiers inside al-Arish and are still doing so despite the launching of the Nesr operation and this proves how well armed they are. Egyptian forces need to equip the area with more strategic weapons and to use aircraft.
The treaty should be modified in a way that reduces the unarmed area and allows the presence of Egyptian military aircraft inside the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt has been very late in seeking this modification even though article four of the treaty gives both parties the right to review security arrangements and mentions the dispatching of UN forces by the Security Council.
So that some might not think this a call for foreign intervention in Sinai, I am talking here about the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) that have been there since the signing of the treaty under the auspices of the United States. These forces, according to Article Four, were supposed to be affiliated to the UN but at the time the Soviet Union, pressured by Arab states who were against the treaty, used its veto right to stop the dispatching of such forces, so the United States replaced them with those multinational ones.
Now, both parties can go back to the UN and put Article Four into effect so that unarmed areas can be reduced and UN forces can replace the multinational forces that have been costing us a fortune.
It is also necessary to put into effect Article Eight that gives Egypt the right to refund the money Israel earned by using the Sinai oil from 1967 till 1982. If we go back to that article under UN supervision, we can get hefty refunds and put pressure on Israel to exercise more flexibility as far as modifying the prices of natural gas is concerned.
Unlike what many like to claim, the Camp David treaty gives Egypt a lot of advantages that it does not make use of and this is what triggered those tensions now in Sinai.
The writer is Managing Editor of the Al Arabiya Arabic website. This article was first published in al-Gomhuria newspaper on Aug. 22, 2011 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid.