Last week’s attack on the gas pipeline in the El- Arish area in northern Sinai
was the fifth such attack in the past six months. According to reports in the
Egyptian press, four armed, masked men infiltrated the gas terminal, blew it up
and escaped without disclosing their identities. The explosion caused serious
damage to the pipeline, even more extensive than the damage caused in the attack
of the previous week.
Although no organization has taken responsibility
for the series of attacks, all of which had a similar modus operandi, various
elements in Egypt have pointed an accusing finger at terrorist organizations
based in the Gaza Strip: al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad and Jaish al-Islam.
this stage, it is not clear whether Palestinian Salafist elements in Gaza are
behind the incidents, or whether it is Egyptian opposition elements. In any
case, the ongoing nature of the attacks, their timing, the choice of targets,
and the perpetrators’ successful escape all indicate that the planners have
exploited the governmental vacuum created in Egypt following the fall of the
Mubarak government and the weakness of the Egyptian security forces, which are
focusing their efforts on major cities throughout the
Additionally, it is evident that the target was chosen because
of its essential role in Israel-Egypt bilateral economic relations.
events, along with the sharp increase in smuggling of advanced weapons through
Sinai to the Gaza Strip, make the Sinai area a security challenge for Israel
because of the likely strategic consequences of the new Egyptian regime’s looser
control in the vast peninsula.
Furthermore, the special gas agreements
signed between Israel and the previous regime have recently come under strong
criticism in Egypt. Various media channels have reported intentions of placing
the former oil minister, who was in charge of maintaining the gas agreements, on
trial on charges of “wasting public money” to the tune of $714 million. They
have also reported a plan by the current administration to conduct a
“reassessment” of the gas export agreements with Israel, with the goal of
increasing the country’s revenues. In early July, the Egyptian finance minister
announced his intention to raise the price of gas to Israel by some NIS 2.5
billion, and another senior Egyptian official even offered an assessment that
the attacks on the gas pipeline were “expected to continue unless implementation
of the [gas] agreement in its present format is not halted.”
the planned changes in the agreements, the immediate damage of these attacks is
already being felt in Israel. As a result of the intermittent gas supply and the
use of more expensive fuels such as fuel oil and diesel, National
Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau estimates that electricity prices will rise
by some 20 percent, and the Israel Electric Company has stated that the cost of
these changes to the economy is liable to reach some NIS 3b.-3.5b.
FROM the immediate economic damages, the series of attacks is an indication of
the additional security risks that are liable to stem from the new situation in
Egypt. The Sinai is likely to become a “no-man’s land” from a security point of
view, where terrorist organizations will be able to maneuver more easily.
Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, head of IDF Military Intelligence, recently observed that
Egyptian security forces “are losing control over the Sinai region,” reflecting
the concern of security officials in Israel about the reported sharp increase in
terrorist attacks in the Sinai.
Most of these terror attacks are a direct
challenge to Egyptian control of the area. For example, in early January, Beduin
armed with anti-tank missiles attacked the police station in Sheikh Zawid, near
the Gaza border; four days later, the headquarters of Amn a-Dawla (Egyptian
state security) in Rafah was attacked and burned down, and in May, it became
known that dozens of armed Beduin had taken control of the Nuweiba port and
prevented the transit of passengers and goods. There was also a report about the
involvement of 400 al-Qaida activists in planning terrorist acts in Egypt and
In fact, it is evident that the shaky security situation in the
Sinai has already affected Israel. A report published by the Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) in May stated that terrorist organizations were exploiting the
governmental chaos in the Sinai to smuggle large quantities of weapons into the
Gaza Strip. IDF intelligence officials reported that Egypt had recently stopped
building the physical barrier to prevent smuggling in the Philadelphi Corridor,
in contravention of the agreement it had with Israel on this issue.
addition, it has been reported that in the past six months, Beduin smugglers
have exploited the wide-open border in Rafah and the absence of Egyptian
security forces in the vast expanses of the Sinai to smuggle rockets to Gaza.
This has increased the number of rockets held by terrorist elements from 5,000
at the end of 2010 to some 10,000. In addition, the quantity of standard
explosives smuggled into the Gaza Strip over the past half-year is three times
the quantity smuggled in all of 2010.
THE RECENT developments only
sharpen the need for Israeli political and security officials to conduct an
in-depth examination of the situation in light of a possible strategic shift in
relations with Egypt. This would likely require new military and security
arrangements on the southern front, quiet for over 30 years. At the same time,
the accepted assessment in Israel thus far is that even if relations with Egypt
are not as close as they were for most of Mubarak’s rule, the new regime in
Egypt will continue to adhere to the peace treaty.
Nonetheless, until the
new regime stabilizes and as long as the Egyptian security apparatus is occupied
primarily with the uprising aftermath in the large cities, the border area
shared by Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip will likely continue to be a focus
for increased terrorist activity against Israeli targets.
Schweitzer is a senior research fellow and the director of the Terrorism and
Low-Intensity Warfare Research Project at Israel’s Institute for National
Security Studies (INSS). Gilad Stern is an intern in the INSS Terrorism and
Low-Intensity Conflict Program. Einav Yogev is a research assistant in the