Peacekeeping: Guarding the Gaza Border

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December 26, 2005: The 1979 treaty that established peace between Egypt and Israel, included the establishment of a Multinational Observer Force (MFO) to monitor the Sinai. In September, 2005, following 18 months of complex negotiations between Israel, Egypt, and representatives of the MFO, elements of the Egyptian Border Guard Force (BGF) began performing security duties in the Sinai.

The original terms of the 1979 treaty severely limited the deployment of Egyptian forces in the Sinai, including BGF personnel. The change, the first in the history of the treaty, was requested by the Israelis in anticipation of their September 12th withdrawal from Gaza. This left a 12 kilometer stretch of frontier between the Palestinian territory and the Sinai without a security force to prevent smuggling and the movement of terrorists. Although the Egyptians initially wanted to assign about 3,000 troops to border security, the final agreement permitted them to send a battalion of the BGF instead.

The agreement between the two countries is quite detailed. The BGF personnel are to be equipped with 504 assault rifles, 9 sniper rifles, 94 pistols, 67 machine guns, 27 RPGs, 31 armored police vehicles, and 44 miscellaneous vehicles. In addition, the Border Guardsmen will operate three radar sites to monitor ground movement and one to monitoring maritime traffic along the coast, which will also be patrolled by 4 patrol boats and 8 unarmed helicopters.
A part of the Armed Forces, the Egyptian BGF is a paramilitary organization numbering about 20,000 personnel organized into 19-20 battalion-sized "regiments." The primary mission of the Border BGF has been anti-smuggling and border security. In the wake of recent terrorism, most notably last summer's series of bomb attacks at several Sinai resorts, the Egyptian government has take steps to expand the BGF's mission to include anti-terrorism. Toward this end at least one battalion of the BGF is current retraining in counter terrorism operations.

 


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