Looking to increase security in the Sinai Peninsula, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is offering Egypt a package of classified intelligence-sharing capabilities designed to help it identify military threats in the area and reassure Israel that Egypt can deal with rising militancy along Israel's border, a senior Pentagon official told CNN on Monday.
According to CNN's Security Clearance blog, Panetta is offering to supply Egypt's military in Sinai with truck-mounted sensors that provide an electronic signal identifying which nation is operating the vehicle. The blog reports that the technology, commonly known as "Blue Force Tracking," has been widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify vehicles at great distances. It is also possible the technology will be offered to the international peacekeeping force in Sinai that includes 700 U.S. troops.
The official told CNN that nothing had been decided yet, and noted that any change in the international peacekeeping force had to be agreed to by all nations.
Additionally, CNN reports that the U.S. is also offering Egypt increased intelligence sharing, including satellite imagery and drone flights and intercepts of cellphone and other communications among militants suspected of planning attacks, according to an Obama administration official.
The package was discussed by Panetta during his recent trips to Egypt and Israel. The administration official emphasized that the offer was aimed strongly at helping Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi improve security in Sinai, but also to reassure Israel, CNN reported.
Meanwhile, Egypt is preparing to use aircraft and tanks in Sinai for the first time since the 1973 war with Israel in its offensive against militants in the border area, security sources said on Monday.
The plans to step up the operation were being finalized by Egypt's newly appointed defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as he made his first visit to Sinai on Monday following the killing of 16 border guards on Aug. 5.
Egypt blamed the attack on Islamist militants, and the conflict is an early test for Morsi, who was elected in June following the overthrow last year of Hosni Mubarak, to prove he can rein in militants on the border with Israel.
"El-Sissi will supervise the putting together of final plans to strike terrorist elements using aircraft and mobile rocket launchers for the first time since the beginning of the operation," an Egyptian security source said.
Another security source said the army was planning to attack and besiege the Halal mountain in central Sinai, where militants are suspected of hiding, using weapons including tanks.
Disorder has spread in northern Sinai, a region with many guns that has felt neglected by the central government since Mubarak’s overthrow. Mubarak's government had worked closely with Israel to keep the region under control and Morsi has promised to restore stability.
The 1979 peace treaty between both countries limited military presence in the desert peninsula, though in recent years Israel agreed to allow Egypt to deploy more forces there to stem weapons smuggling by Palestinian gunmen and other crimes.
After the border attack this month, Egypt launched a joint army-police operation that has raided militant hideouts, arrested their members and seized weapons.
Israeli officials, who say they are in regular contact with Cairo, have encouraged Egypt to take tough action against the gunmen responsible for the assault and have previously allowed the use of helicopters in the operation.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards but a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group, warned the Egyptian army last week that the crackdown would force it to fight back.
Sissi was appointed defense minister last week in a surprise shake-up by Morsi, replacing Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who served as Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years.