Monday, August 06, 2012

A Warning Sign From Sinai

Over the weekend, a major terror attack occurred in the Sinai Peninsula. It's been essentially turned into a no-man's land and Israel has warned its citizens to avoid the region. The main threat is that terror groups may seek to kidnap Israelis so as to demand the release of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails.

16 members of the Egyptian security force were killed in a terror attack in Rafah that was meant to capture Egyptian vehicles so that they could then be used against Israel.
Egyptian state television reported that an Islamist militant group was behind the attack that came at sunset.

The Israeli military said the attack was part of a plot to abduct an Israeli soldier. Two vehicles commandeered by the attackers crashed into Israel, where one blew up and the other was struck by the Israeli air force.

In a statement, Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel's military and the internal security agency "thwarted an attack that could have injured many. The militants' attack methods again raise the need for determined Egyptian action to enforce security and prevent terror in the Sinai."
Terror attacks inside Sinai have increased in the past several years. The attacks have included Bedouins targeting oil pipelines connecting Sinai with Israel, as well as kidnapping of tourists. They've also involved Palestinian terrorists who have illegally entered Sinai with the purpose of then attacking Israel via a more porous border.

Israel has taken to beefing up its border with Sinai, but there are limitations on the number of Israeli forces that can be in close proximity to the border pursuant to the Camp David accords and security arrangements between Egypt and Israel. The terrorists have looked to take advantage of that situation, though they have also carried out mortar and rocket attacks against Israel from the Sinai, including one near Eilat.

These attacks highlight the ongoing instability in Sinai and that the Egyptian government has been ill equipped to deal with the situation, especially since Hosni Mubarak was deposed. The new regime has only now sought to bolster its security in the region, and the attacks against the security forces will likely mean that crossings between Gaza and Egypt will be scrutinized to a greater degree.

Israel has long warned that instability in Sinai has led to jihadi groups using the region for their own purposes and are suggesting that Egypt needs to crack down. That puts Egypt at odds with Hamas, which controls Gaza.
The attack was sophisticated, but it was also extremely ambitious and seemed to have been taken straight out of a Hollywood movie – breaking into an Egyptian military base, killing around a dozen soldiers, stealing two armored vehicles and then ramming them into Israel.

It shows that the terrorists are not afraid of Egypt and are willing to kill Egyptians on their way to kill Israelis.

For now, the IDF’s investigation will focus on determining the identity of the attackers. It seems that at least some of them are Egyptian Beduin from Sinai, while others might be Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. The IDF believes that the perpetrators are part of a larger global jihad infrastructure that is forming inside Sinai and is a threat not just to Israel but also to Egypt.

The attack was not connected to the one that Israel thwarted earlier in the day with an air strike on a global jihad cell in southern Gaza that killed one terrorist and seriously wounded another. That planned attack, which appears to have been thwarted – for the time being – was supposed to be different.

The IDF did, however, have vague intelligence about the second attack and, as a result, it was not a coincidence that OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo was in an army base adjacent to the Kerem Shalom crossing when the attack took place.

What this means is that Israel is facing a reality along its border with Egypt that is becoming more and more similar to the situation along its border with Gaza – a number of groups all trying simultaneously and independently to attack Israel.

So, what will happen? Egypt will probably ask Israel to allow it to deploy additional army battalions in Sinai so they can crack down on the growing terrorist threat there.
As I noted above, putting more troops into Sinai would take coordination with Israel pursuant to existing security arrangements. This can certainly be done, but Israel will need to keep a wary eye on the region due to the ongoing threats posed by Hamas and affiliated terror groups that operate in Gaza and are using Sinai as a stepping stone to carry out attacks against Israel beyond the Gaza/Israel line.

It's a wake up call to the Egyptian government that they're facing a significant threat from terror groups exploiting the lawless regions to plot and carry out attacks against Egyptian interests.

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