Cohen Salutes Sinai Peacekeepers
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt, April 27, 1998 "You represent the force for peace between Egypt and Israel," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, told American troops here April 20. "This is a critical mission," because "without peace in the Sinai, it would be very difficult to promote a wider, regional peace."
Cohen visited the Multinational Force and Observers here during a five-country trip, April 17 to 21.
Cohen met with multinational troops who serve here among the desert sands, camels and Bedouin tribes. About 900 U.S. service members from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and 1st Support Battalion make up the bulk of the 1,200 troops from 11 nations assigned to the mission.
The force patrols and operates checkpoints and observation posts within the demilitarized zone. The zone runs along the boundary between Egypt and Israel. The force also ensures freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran at the southern entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba.
The 11-nations' team effort "resonates" with the message that "peace is the cause we all have to be committed to," Cohen told about 300 American troops assembled under the sun at South Camp's outdoor amphitheater. "The best way we can to do that is to have your presence and your continued dedication to service, sacrifice and patriotism."
Cohen said the Sinai Peninsula has been the site of four wars in the last 25 years. They span from 1948, following the proclamation of the State of Israel, to conflicts in 1956, 1967 and 1973.
The multinational peacekeeping force was first stationed in the Sinai after Israel withdrew its forces in 1982 under the 1979 Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel. Today, infantry battalions from Colombia, Fiji and the United States serve along with an Italian coastal patrol unit, French aviators, Hungarian military police and smaller contingents from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Uruguay.
Cohen said despite the region's troubled history and harsh terrain, economic prosperity and development is evident. Thirty years ago, this was a barren stretch of desert along the Red Sea; today, the coastline is a growing diving resort, sprouting international hotels, shopping malls and condominiums.
"This [development] is only possible if there's peace," Cohen said. "If there is peace and stability, then investment takes place," he said. "Investment breeds prosperity and a greater sense of security."
Cohen hailed the service members who he said serve as diplomats as well as warriors. "When you are deployed here and all over the world, you are helping to shape people's opinions about the United States. That's a mission you should take great pride in."
Surveying the surrounding terrain's sand, rock and sun, Cohen acknowledged, "I know the time out here can be long. It can be lonely for all of you. The weather can be hot. I'm told the dust storms can be pretty harsh. We came here today to express our gratitude to each and every one of you for your service.
"Even though you may feel isolated out here, [and] that people are not aware of the mission you are [performing], we are well aware of it back home. This is a dangerous neighborhood. By virtue of your presence, this is one of the safe streets in the Middle East. You make us very proud."
At Cohen's next stop in Jerusalem the next day, he said the Multinational Force and Observers are doing an excellent job. "The best power is the power that is deployed somewhere and not used," Cohen said.
Before visiting desert peacekeeping sites, Cohen met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Defense Minister Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi in Cairo.
Cohen told the Egyptian leaders the United States will continue to support Egypt's modernization efforts. "This year, we are going to provide $1.3 billion in grants, and our troops are going to continue to exercise and train together." The cooperative program will include 50 Avenger vehicles with Stinger missiles, two frigates, torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and coproduction of tank recovery vehicles.