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Egyptian soldiers are seen near the Kerem Shalom crossing, a zone where the Israeli, Egyptian and Gaza borders intersect and where an Egyptian military vehicle that was seized by Islamist gunmen tried to storm the border into Israel on Sunday, August 8, 2012. (AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Egyptian soldiers are seen near the Kerem Shalom crossing, a zone where the Israeli, Egyptian and Gaza borders intersect and where an Egyptian military vehicle that was seized by Islamist gunmen tried to storm the border into Israel on Sunday, August 8, 2012. (AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Egypt’s interest in the Sinai is welcome, if overdue Add to ...

It is good that Egypt is at last taking strenuous measures to enforce security in the long-neglected, thinly populated Sinai peninsula, after a series of murderous attacks on 16 Egyptian border guards at five military-police checkpoints on Aug. 5, by militants whose particular brand of fanaticism has not yet been made clear.

The Egyptian air force believes it knows where these militants are based, and has made air strikes accordingly, killing about 20 people. Operation Eagle, as it is called, will continue as long as it is thought to be needed. This is the first major action in the Sinai by the Egyptian military since the October (or Yom Kippur) War of 1973.

The Israeli-Egyptian treaty of 1979 that settled that war substantially restricted the Egyptian military presence in the peninsula. Security further declined after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, in 2011.

Now, on balance, it would be in the interest of Israel for Egypt to have a stronger presence in the Sinai, rather than allow the anarchy of recent years – a matter of abundant human smuggling, as well as violent militants.

In response to the militants’ attack, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been the President for only five weeks, has dismissed the chief of intelligence (appointing an acting chief) and the governor of North Sinai.

This apparent decisiveness stands in contrast with Mr. Morsi’s decision not to attend the border guards’ funeral. That was ostensibly so as not to inconvenience mourners with elaborate presidential security, but may have been to avoid protesters who believe him to be insufficiently harsh toward religious militants; some go so far as to blame him and the new government for the 16 deaths.

Egypt is in a difficult transition. The relationship between the President and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces remains mysterious and probably is in flux. It is encouraging, however, that the Egyptian military has reacted vigorously to retaliate against outrageous attacks in a dangerous region that has hitherto been, at best, lightly governed.

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