Stationing GIs in Sinai

It comes as no surprise that the Reagan administration is moving ahead on the formation of an international peacekeeping force in Sinai which will be comprised largely of American troops. The US has no other choice if it wishes to preserve the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Under the terms of that agreement, Israel will withdraw from the final one-third of Sinai in 1982 and either a UN-sponsored multilateral force or one put together by the US must be on hand to patrol the region after the withdrawal. Inasmuch as the Russians have indicated they would veto formation of a UN force, the Reagan administration is turning to the alternative.

The decision to let the United States take the lead in providing troops for this force is justified. Many Americans may be queasy about sending American GIs abroad again --this would be the first commitment of US forces on foreign soil since the Vietnam war. In any such involvement overseas there admittedly are risks, especially in a volatile region of the world. But, in this case, the risks of notm getting involved must also be counted and these would be heavy. If the terms of the Camp David treaty are not fulfilled, the US will in effect be throwing overboard the first step of peace in the Middle east in more than three decades. Surely that would be an unacceptable cost.

Two things might be said about a truce force, however. One is that it be a genuinely international force. It looks as if the US may have to provide as many as half of the some 2,500 troups contemplated. But the more nations that can be persuaded to take part in the force, the better. This would make things easier for President Sadat, who does not wish to appear to be lending Egyptian territory to an American presence. It would also be better for America's own image. Hence Washington should make every effort to broaden national participation.

Secondly, the US administration should avoid having the peacekeeping force appear like the nucleus of or base for the "rapid deployment force" which the US is developing for possible operation in the Persian Gulf region. A Sinai force would have its own raison d'etre, i.e. to act as buffer between two nations in a demilitarized zone. To alter this function in any way would call in question the whole peace treaty between Egypt and Israel; the agreement would perhaps then have to be renegotiated.

In this connection Washington should also resist Israeli urgings that the US use the air bases at Etzion and Eitam after Israel's withdrawal. Sinai is supposed to be demilitarized.m If the US does anything that alters the letter and spirit of the peace agreement, it could open up other issues already settled upon. It is clear that strict adherence to the treaty provisions is the only way to guarantee the treaty's permanence and implementation. Needless to say, too, President Sadat, already in trouble with his fellow Arabs, would be placed in an untenable position if it were seen that the US was blatantly using Egyptian territory for its own strategic purposes.

Many details about the multinational force have yet to be worked out, including the extent to which it will be armed. But the basic concept is one which Congress should be willing to support. The United States long ago accepted the responsibility of trying to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East. It was a major actor in the Camp David accords. It therefore bears a responsibility for guaranteeing the peace between Egypt and Israel negotiated under those accords. A limited American presence in Sinai, in short, is the price that will have to be paid to preserve that peace -- and to move on to the next order of business, the question of West Bank autonomy and Palestinian self-rule.

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