Egypt's newly appointed Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reassured his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a telephone conversation on Wednesday, that Egypt was fully committed to the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat reported Friday.
The two reportedly reached understandings over the highly contentious issue of Egyptian military deployment in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel. According to the report, the conversation immediately preceded a meeting between Sissi and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, in which Sissi relayed Israel's concerns.
Egypt has been building up its military presence in the lawless desert region since Islamist terrorists killed 16 Egyptian soldiers there on Aug. 5, before charging the border with Israel and being killed by Israeli forces.
However, Israel this week objected to Egypt's deployment of tanks in the volatile border area, saying it violated the landmark 1979 peace accord. The current spat is the biggest test of the 1979 deal since Egypt's Islamist president took power in June.
Although Israel is itself a frequent target of Islamist extremists based in Sinai and has welcomed the crackdown, Israeli officials say significant military moves by Egypt must be coordinated, giving Israel a veto of sorts over Egyptian security strategy.
According to Al-Hayat, Barak expressed Israel's concern over the burgeoning military presence in Sinai, but Sissi reassured him with calming messages. The report further revealed that the two defense ministers agreed on military efforts to eradicate terror activity in the territory.
Under the peace accord, Egypt is allowed to have only lightly armed police force in the zone along the border with Israel. A limited numbers of tanks are permitted only in a zone on the far western side of the peninsula, within 30 miles of the Suez Canal.
Israel agreed last year to exceptions to the treaty, allowing Egypt's military to deploy troops with heavier weaponry into the most sensitive zone of eastern Sinai close to the Israeli border. Israel made similar exceptions during its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration urged Egypt to be transparent with Israel about its military movements in Sinai. The U.S. State Department said Thursday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by phone with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr about the matter on Wednesday.
According to the State Department, the call was part of U.S. discussions with both Israeli and Egyptian officials to keep lines of communications open. However, Clinton has yet to make a similar call to Israel.
The U.S. reminded Egypt of "the importance of working through the security challenges in Sinai in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt's security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"We are interested in seeing strong security operations, but we are also interested in good communication among neighbors going forward," she told reporters.