Israel has told Egypt that it must remove its tanks from the Sinai Peninsula because their continued presence violates the peace agreement between the two countries.
The message was sent via the White House in an effort to give the warning added weight and to bridge the shaky relationship between Israeli and Egyptian security forces, Maariv reported on Tuesday. Israel was protesting the ongoing increase in military presence, which has been going ahead without coordination with Jerusalem.
Egyptian officials said later Tuesday, however, that they had received no such complaint.
On Monday, an Egyptian security source told Reuters that Cairo would soon deploy tanks, aircraft and rocket launchers in its bid to root terrorist elements out of the peninsula.
The move would constitute an unprecedented military presence in the Sinai, which was demilitarized as part of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Jerusalem considers the peninsula a strategic buffer zone.
The decision to communicate via the White House was made, the report said, because Israeli ties with Egypt have become strained in recent months. The United States is still influential thanks to the $1.3 billion of military aid it supplies to Egypt every year.
Earlier this month Israel agreed to an Egyptian troop buildup in the Sinai as part of Cairo’s cleanup operation against terror groups that were operating with impunity throughout the peninsula. The move came after an attack at the beginning of August on an Egyptian border post, which left 16 border guards dead.
That incident ended after the terrorists commandeered an armored vehicle and crashed it through the border into Israel, where it was intercepted by Israeli forces.
Israeli officials are concerned that Egypt may use its anti-terrorist operation as a way of building its military strength in Sinai. Having gained access, Cairo may leave the tanks and armored carriers in place while taking little more than symbolic action to curb the terrorist threat.
Haaretz reported last week that Egypt moved dozens of tanks and armored vehicles into the northern Sinai area without first coordinating with Israel.