Analysis: Palestinian terror may be bad, but ISIS in Sinai is a far more dangerous enemy

After daring to bring down a Russian passenger jet, the "Sinai branch" of ISIS has gained some self-confidence.

By
November 29, 2015 14:27
Sinai province

Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province fighters in the Sinai Peninsula. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ARAB MEDIA)

 
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As we conclude the third month in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence, it is becoming apparent that it is not likely to end soon. Many Israelis wonder if this set of circumstances will become permanent, and the saddening answer is yes. Like two boxers who have become too exhausted to subdue the other in the ring, the Israelis and the Palestinians are once again locked in a bear hug in the hope that the referee will step in and stop the fight. Today, however, there is no referee who will ring the bell. The fighters are on their own.

Israel, as is its wont, is searching for answers in the form of concrete blocks and checkpoints. On the other side, while the Palestinian Authority is indeed acting to prevent massive clashes with the IDF, it is not making a sincere effort to tone down the incitement. Neither side is considering an initiative that would put a stop to this violent dance and perhaps lead to an altogether different reality.

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Cynics may suspect that a state of conflict is convenient for both leaderships and that neither side has an interest to bring the violence to an end. The bloodshed serves Palestinian interests since it brings the conflict to a greater awareness among the Israeli public as well as throughout the region and, to a lesser extent, the world.

The wave of terrorism also distracts the Israeli public from issues that have proven to be hardships on its daily life. In other words, it is much easier for the Israeli government to rule over a population by means of scaremongering and warning over the constant threat of Palestinian stabbings than to grapple with matters like the high cost of living and the eroding quality of public services.
ISIS branch in Sinai reveals group's new weaponry‏

Senior IDF officers have been racking their brains for weeks in an effort to find a suitable name for this new set of circumstances, assiduously avoiding the term "intifada." The army, which has never exhibited a gift for marketing or advertising, eventually decided on the characterization "limited uprising."

It's not a catchy term, but it is pretty close to describing what is taking place. Even without explicitly saying so, the IDF remembers just how long it took to extinguish the previous two intifadas. The moment the Palestinian genie came out of the bottle, it took five years to put it back inside. By all indications, we are now at the beginning of yet another five-year cycle.

The current trend indicates a drop in the number of incidents. Police in Jerusalem have been particularly impressive in successfully reducing – by a lot - the level of violence. There will be more attacks in Jerusalem, but the city, which is an eternal flashpoint of conflict, has for the time being ceased to be a leading factor.



Hebron has taken Jerusalem's place as the new epicenter. Six out of 10 terrorists originated in Hebron and its immediate environs. In recent days, Samaria has also emerged as a focal point of violence.

The IDF is once again employing methods that it used in previous intifadas. It has dotted Route 60 – the roadway that connects all Palestinian villages in Gush Etzion – with checkpoints and roadblocks. IDF units are operating inside Palestinian villages on a nightly basis in order to provoke those that possess weapons in the hopes that they come out of hiding. This is an effective tactic against those who are planning to commit shooting attacks, and while they are relatively few in number, they are particularly dangerous. Of the 71 total attacks that have taken place in the last two months, seven of them were committed by rifle fire.

IDF operations, however, have not stopped the knifing attacks. Aside from the obligatory placement of physical obstacles placed in flashpoints of violence, like Gush Etzion Junction and Tapuach Junction, what will determine the outcome of attempted attacks is the operational conduct of IDF soldiers.

Since the killing of Ziv Mizrahi at a gas station earlier this week, it seems that most soldiers on the ground understood that they need to prevent the possibility of coming into close contact with Palestinians. That means keeping a safe distance from them and not allowing them to get close enough to the security forces or civilians in order to stab them.

One surprising element of this round of violence is that after nearly three months, none of the established Palestinian organizations have succeeded in riding the wave and taking a leadership position. Here and there we heard about terrorists affiliated with a certain group, but overall, it isn't Hamas, the Tanzim, or the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades that are initiating this chain of events. If there is one entity that is providing the inspiration, it is Islamic State, the ghost that is hovering above the Palestinians.

It was sad to see two high school girls from Jerusalem this week running around aimlessly near light rail stations on Jaffa Street, trying to clumsily stab anyone nearby. Eventually, they attacked an elderly Palestinian man from Bethlehem. The next day, a 13-year-old Israeli girl from Kfar Saba committed suicide because of the shame she felt over the fact that her family did not have the financial means to allow her to join her classmates on its annual trip.

It's difficult to avoid noticing the similarities at play – the frustration that sometimes overtakes these adolescents – as well as the differences. The Israeli girl chose to die by hanging herself, and the other two Palestinian girls chose to die while trying to kill others.

In years past, the Israeli-Arab conflict was the defining factor in shaping the region and motivating its actors. Now, that role has been overtaken by ISIS, an organization that is reconfiguring the balance of forces and redefining Middle Eastern – perhaps even global – alliances.

We are still witnessing the ramifications of the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey. Indeed, this incident could have global repercussions. The world's most well-trained analysts and intelligence officials worked hard this week in trying to  understand what motivated the Turks to make such a panicked move. Was this a well-planned ambush designed to send a message to Moscow? Or was the decision to bring down the plane made by junior level officials blindly implementing the policy of zero tolerance when it comes to foreign forces encroaching on Turkish air space?

Either way, we have not heard the last word from the Russians on this matter. Turkey has no idea just how steep the price it will pay for its mistake, for the Kremlin is not one to forgive and forget. The West may also re-evaluate its posture toward Turkey, a quiet yet loyal ally of ISIS. The Western coalition's continued attacks on ISIS's oil infrastructure have already inflicted tremendous damage on "the Islamic State" and its economic model.

Nowadays, ISIS manages to sell oil at a rate of $20 million per month. That number was much higher months ago. The Islamist group has managed to scrape up some additional income from ransom money in exchange for Western and Asian hostages, but it is not nearly enough in order to subsidize the operations of an organization and its global terrorist designs.

On the ground, it has suffered losses to Kurdish forces. Here and there, it has also been dealt setbacks by rebel groups in Syria. But just as ISIS has been slipping, its Beduin brethren in the Sinai have reared their heads. After daring to bring down a Russian passenger jet, the "Sinai branch" of ISIS has gained some self-confidence. Its attack even earned it a fat check from the mothership.

The IDF is looking at our southwestern border as the next frontier of battle. To this point, ISIS fighters in Sinai were mostly preoccupied with fighting the Egyptian army. But the media exposure that the Palestinians have received throughout the Arab world by attacking Israelis is likely to prompt jihadists in Sinai to do the same. In a relatively short time, we are liable to meet an enemy that is more determined and more dangerous – one equipped with deadlier weapons – on the Egyptian border.

This past week, I visited the residents of Nitzana. These are the Israelis who live closest to ISIS. One cannot help but be struck by the optimism of these tough-as-nails pioneers who on a daily basis fight the harsh desert lands in order to make it bloom. For anyone who wants to get a sense of genuine, real Zionism, I would recommend a visit to the vegetable fields and farms in places like Kadesh Barnea and Be'er Milka.

Some of these residents live as little as 50 meters from the border fence, but they are not afraid of ISIS. Their gravest threat is the State of Israel, which doesn't even give a second thought to their welfare, just as it doesn't give a second thought to most genuine Zionists. Not only is the government doing nothing to help them by encouraging settlement in the Negev, but it is also fighting the agrarians and farmers and those who make a living off the soil there.

Following a week in which our public servants revealed themselves to be admirers of female breasts and buttocks and mockers of the disabled, the phrase of a prophet rings true: "Thy children make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth from thee." (Isaiah, 49:17)

We will make do with our enemies, for they are no match for us. But, as Zion says in the Book of Isaiah, "Who hath begotten me these?"

The writer is Channel 10's chief military analyst.

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