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Norwegian officers on mission in Sinai

Three Norwegian officers have their work place on the troubled Sinai Peninsula.

Text by Ina Nyås Moe  Photo and video by Jonas Selim, Norwegian Joint Headquarters

​"The Multinational Force and observers (MFO) stands out in many ways," says Major Tore Kristoffersen, planning officer in the MFO military headquarters, South Camp.

"This is a peacekeeping operation that is not in the auspices of the United Nations. It is exceptional because it is led by the three parties to the peace agreement: the United States, Israel and Egypt. That makes it very special, and it can not be compared to anything else," Kristoffersen adds.

Norway participates with three officers in the multinational organisation whose main task is to observe, verify and report any violations of the Camp David Agreement, the peace agreement signed by Egypt and Israel in 1978. The MFO was established on the Sinai Peninsula four years later. Twelve nations contribute with personnel to the organisation, which now consists of 394 civilians and 1225 military.

For 35 years, MFO has ensured that the peace between Israel and Egypt is maintained. Kristoffersen applied for a job at the MFO because he regarded it as the most exciting and challenging mission.

"This has been one of the most successful missions in the world, and that makes you want to learn what has made this mission so successful," says Kristoffersen.

 Moved The headquarters

 ­"Within the plan section we have different cultures and different ways of solving planning and staff work. I hope that my experiences and the Norwegian culture will help making a positive contribution," says Kristoffersen.

South Camp is surrounded by sea on one side, mountains on the other side, and tourist hotels on the two remaining sides. The surroundings stand in stark contrast to the barbed wire fence and the armed guards that provide for the safety of the personnel in the camp.

Recently he and his colleagues moved into a brand new building in South Camp. Inside the camp, there is still a considerable amount of construction activity. In 2016, the MFO headquarters was moved from North Sinai to South Sinai, due to the changed security situation, as terrorist groups have ravaged in North Sinai.

 

 

en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=237South Camp is encircled by barbed wire fence. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE9153.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=216South Camp is encircled by barbed wire fence. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE9153.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=245Watchtower in South Camp. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2755.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=227Watchtower in South Camp. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2755.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=246South Camp. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2922.jpg


Desperate people

Major Tron Munz, who is a liaison officer, had his work place in northern Sinai in the beginning of his service period.

"There are many desperate people who have lost their homes, and many people who have lost their lives. Seeing what people are able to do to each other is sad. There is a lot going on outside the fence that we witness when we go out," he says.

Much has changed in the area since he served in the United Nations operation UNTSO at The Golan Hights, five years ago.

"Returing here was surreal. The first night I might have slept two or three hours because there was shooting all the time, and artillery going off," says Munz.

He compares today's situation in northern Sinai to the periods he served in Afghanistan and Lebanon.

improvised bombs

"My biggest fear was to drive out of the camp. The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat is high, and the systems are not complicated," says Munz.

The imporivsed bombs are set up by violent extremists to take out Egyptian forces.

"But the case is that it is the first person that drives on the road, that will hit the IED," Munz says.

The MFO liaison officers main task is to facilitate all communications between the MFO and the two parties: Egypt and Israel.

"I feel that I'm making a difference as we are monitoring the border between Israel and Egypt, and keeping the peace agreement under surveillance. By doing my little part, I feel that I contribute to that. I find that meaningful," said Munz.

 

 

en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=232Major Tron Munz in a conversation with a Canadian colleague. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE9031.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=213Major Tron Munz in a conversation with a Canadian colleague. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE9031.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=236Major Tron Munz and a colleague in front of one of the cars that the liaisons use when they go on a mission outside the camp. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE9079.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=215Major Tron Munz and a colleague in front of one of the cars that the liaisons use when they go on a mission outside the camp. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE9079.jpg


NORWEGIAN CONTRIBUTION

Colonel Ole Anders Øie works as an adviser to the force commander and and the chief of staff. In addition, he is Norway's Senior National Representative in the mission, meaning that he is responsible for his two Norwegian colleagues.

"The MFO is well received in Sinai. It is an organisation that both the Israelis and the Egyptians appreciate," says Øie.

The MFO Force Commander, Australian Major General Simon Stuart, says he appreciates Norway's efforts.

"The commitment of the Norwegian government, of its people, its people in uniform and its financial resources make a difference on a day-to-day basis here in Sinai," the Force Commander says.

 

 

en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=234Colonel Ole Anders Øie in his office which is located at the new headquarters' building in South Camp. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE1125.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=214Colonel Ole Anders Øie in his office which is located at the new headquarters' building in South Camp. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE1125.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=238Colonel Ole Anders Øie conversating with a Czech colleague. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171031inm_2981.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=217Colonel Ole Anders Øie conversating with a Czech colleague. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171031inm_2981.jpg


Few changes in the peace agreement

In addition to the three officers, Norway is sponsoring the MFO's Civilian Observer Unit. Their task is to provide information to both trety partners about military materiel on both the Israeli and the Egyptian side.

They count the number of tanks, artillery, planes, all military weapons, as well as other items that can be used as weapons. The MFO verifies whether the numbers are according to the peace agreement.

"There has been little change since the peace treaty was signed," says Jeff Lichke, head of the Civilian Observer Unit.

Sinai is divided into four zones. MFO's civilian observers can operate freely in all zones, while the military section is only allowed to operate in one of the zones. The observers are unarmed and use both aircraft, helicopters and cars when they are out on a mission.

"We document what we see. We always have an Israeli or Egyptian liaison officer with us, depending on which country we are in," says Lichke.

 

 

en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=224Jeff Licke, Chief of the Civilian Observers Unit. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE0834.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=230Civilian observers are looking at a map to decide which route to take. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE1011.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=212Civilian observers are looking at a map to decide which route to take. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE1011.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=239Personnel from the Multinational Force and Observers' Civilian Observer. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2914.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=218Personnel from the Multinational Force and Observers' Civilian Observer. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2914.jpg


the eyes at sea

Ten kilometers from the South Camp, is the maritime part of the MFO, the Coastal Patrol Unit. At Sharm El Sheikh Harbour, the three Italian coastguards belonging to the organisation, lie side by side.

The coastguards vessels are the eyes of the MFO at sea. They patrol the Tiran Strait and the surrounding area. From here, they inform the command chain when they see Egyptian or Israeli military vessels, planes or helicopters.

"It has been a good experience to work with other contingents. This is the first year I command a vessel, and it is very exciting and interesting to support the MFO from the sea," says Lieutenant Simon Puddu, the commanding officer of the Italian coast guard vessel Sentinella.

 

 

en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=222Italian coastguard vessels at Sharm El Sheikh Harbour. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE0844.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=243Lieutenant Simon Puddu, commanding officer at the Italian coast guard vessel Sentinella. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2798.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=223Lieutenant Simon Puddu, commanding officer at the Italian coast guard vessel Sentinella. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2798.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=244Colonel Ole Anders Øie and Lieutenant Simon Puddu on board the Italian coast guard vessel Sentinella. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2785.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=225Colonel Ole Anders Øie and Lieutenant Simon Puddu on board the Italian coast guard vessel Sentinella. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2785.jpg


challenging security situation

Near the airport in Sharm El Sheikh remote site number four is located. It is manned by an American force who are reporting possible breaches of the peace treaty by observing activity in the air and sea outside Sharm El Sheikh.

Earlier, there were 30 such manned rempote sites located from north to south on the Sinai Peninsula. Today, only six are left. Some of the previously manned positions have been replaced by cameras, while others have been replaced by communication relays.

"The MFO has been successful in adapting to a more challenging security situation. I think it is also a natural progression to make sure that the MFO was more efficient in the way we use our resources," Major General Simon Stuart says.

The Force Commander says that the violent extremism in Northern Sinai also have led the MFO to strengthening its focus on force protection, and that the organisation has relied more heavily on the treaty partners.

 

 

en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=226Remote site 4. Photo by Jonas Selim/media/PubImages/JOSE0930.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=228Remote site 4 is manned by an American force. Photo by Jonas Selim /media/PubImages/JOSE0989.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=219A soldier from the Multinational Force and Observers looking at the Tiran Strait from a remote site in Sharm El Sheikh. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2843.jpg
en_198_norwegianofficersonaen_198_norwegianofficersonahttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedMedia/DispForm.aspx?ID=240A soldier from the Multinational Force and Observers looking at the Tiran Strait from a remote site in Sharm El Sheikh. Photo by Ina Nyås Moe/media/PubImages/20171030inm_2843.jpg


still relevant

"It is important to note that extremism, the way that it found its expression in Northern Sinai, has not distracted the treaty partners, and has not diminished their commitment to the treaty of peace between Egypt and Israel in spite of some significant pressure from violent extremists," the Force Commander says.

The Force Commander believes that the MFO will still be relevant for many years to come.

"I would observe that the treaty partners are absolutely committed to the peace that they agreed almost 40 years ago, and also committed to maintaining the MFO as the mechanism to facilitate the confidence and the two key roles that the MFO has in terms of transparency and facilitating dialogue," the Major General says.

Published 04 January 2018 17:03.. Last updated 08 January 2018 14:45.