When al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist cells in Sinai attack Israel, as they did this month by firing a rocket at Eilat, they seek to realize two goals with one stroke.
The first is ideological: to obey a radical Islamist ideology that calls for unwavering jihad against Israel. The growth of groups that have imbibed al-Qaida’s core ideology is a byproduct of the wider breakdown of sovereignty in the region. Jihadis thrive in lawless zones.
Their second goal is tactical: the Sinai jihadis are seeking to provoke a diplomatic incident between Israel and Egypt, which they hope will ultimately endanger the 1979 peace treaty, viewed as anathema.
The majority of terrorist attacks in Sinai are being directed at the Egyptian army and police, seen by the fanatical forces as representatives of a secular and void Egyptian state. But future attempts to fire rockets or launch cross-border attacks on Israel, by groups such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, appear to be inevitable.
Over recent months, since Mohamed Morsi was deposed as Egyptian president, the military has taken the bull by the horns and launched a large-scale operation against the terrorist training camps and centers of operation that dot the Sinai Peninsula.
But now, with Egyptian cities experiencing turmoil and mass-casualty clashes between security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, it remains unclear whether the army can keep up its current level of commitment to fighting terrorism in Sinai.
While the army will surely continue its efforts, it may need to move forces away from the desert province and back to Egypt proper.
That might give the radicals a freer hand to move against Israel. Such a development could force the IDF to proactively defend Israeli lives from developing attacks.
The more Egyptian cities, especially Cairo, suffer from instability, the more the Egyptian army may need to move infantry and armored units to the scenes of domestic disorder.
The IDF has been preparing intensively for the eventuality of increased terrorism from Sinai.
Ideally, the Egyptian military will remain in Sinai and continue to tackle the problem.