Report: U.S. Seeking to End or Reduce Sinai Peacekeeping Participation

YERUSHALAYIM -
The Red Sea’s Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) Islands in the Strait of Tiran, between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is considering withdrawing significantly from the multinational peacekeeping force in Sinai, Walla News quoted Pentagon sources as saying Sunday. Pentagon officials informed Congress of the possibility at a hearing last week, the report said.

The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) is an international peacekeeping force overseeing the terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, established in 1981 as a result of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, and operating mostly in Sinai. The United States is one of 15 countries that make up the peacekeeping contingent, with some 450 personnel who patrol the region, operating mostly as a separation of forces between Israel and Egypt. Under the terms of the treaty, Egyptian soldiers are banned from Sinai, with enforcement undertaken by police and special forces.

According to the report, U.S. Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said at the hearing that the army was “re-evaluating” its role in multinational forces, especially the MFO. The current administration is seeking to redeploy forces to target conflicts that could erupt between the U.S., Russia and China in the coming decade, Milley reportedly said.

The report quoted legal experts as saying that the U.S. cannot withdraw from the MFO altogether, as the participation of American forces is a condition of the existence of the peace treaty. The treaty requires American forces to be stationed at points along the Gaza-Israel, Gaza-Sinai, and Philadelphia Passage areas.

The U.S. has in any event been gradually reducing its forces in Sinai over the years, as have other countries. Today, there are 454 American troops out of a total of 1,156. When the forces were first deployed, there were over 1,200 U.S. troops participating, one of them Milley himself, the report said. Annual funding for the MFO is $75 million, shared equally by the U.S., Israel, and Egypt, with the U.S. contributing an extra $5 million a year.