An Egyptian soldier on the Israeli border in Sinai 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Sinai is fast turning into a tinderbox of instability, a potential launchpad for
terrorism and a source of tension between Egypt and Israel, an Israeli-authored
study for a major US think tank found last week.
Ehud Yaari, a fellow at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Channel 2 News’ Arab affairs
analyst, wrote that developments in Sinai “could break a fragile bilateral peace
that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review,
or amend the treaty” between Jerusalem and Cairo.
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While the peninsula has
long been given relatively free rein from Cairo, the breakdown in central
control following president Hosni Mubarak’s February overthrow has seen Sinai
turn into an increasingly autonomous region. Yaari, a former associate editor of
The Jerusalem Report
, wrote the past year’s increase in arms-smuggling and rise
in Islamic extremism is a volatile combination: the natural gas pipeline leading
through Sinai to Israel has been attacked 10 times in the last year.
report, released by the Washington Institute, also cites the strong Islamist
performance in Egypt’s parliamentary elections as cause for concern for Israel.
An Islamist-government, it says, could turn a blind eye or even abet terrorist
groups in the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
“Sinai militias [might] operate
freely in the same way that Fatah used to operate along the Jordan Valley in the
late 1960s, or that the Palestine Liberation organization, the Amal movement and
Hezbollah successively operated along the Lebanon- Israel frontier,” the report
says. “Indeed, one can no longer ignore the possibility of a situation in which
peace is nominally in force but hostilities are recurrent.”
study says no “quick fix” can improve conditions in Sinai, it offers a number of
recommendations to help slow a deterioration in security, such as deploying the
Egyptian military to the border and tightening Egyptian-Israeli coordination.
The international peacekeeping force in the peninsula could also be bolstered
and the US could realign its aid program to “exercise its still-considerable
influence in Cairo to encourage much stricter supervision over the transfer of
goods across the Suez Canal.”
Ilan Berman, vice president of the American
Foreign Policy Council, said the situation in Sinai has the power to
dramatically alter Israel’s security calculus.
“Since the signing of the
peace accord with Egypt more than 30 years ago, the ‘cold peace’ with Cairo –
and the Sinai’s mostly demilitarized nature – allowed Israel to focus on threats
to its north and east,” he said. “Now, Israeli policymakers need to account for
a new and potentially destabilizing theater to their south as they consider
In an op-ed in Forbes
magazine last month, Berman
noted an alarming growth of al-Qaida-linked groups in the Sinai, including those
that claimed responsibility for several of the pipeline attacks and an August
terrorist attack that killed eight Israelis near Eilat.
In late December,
another jihadi outfit, this one calling itself Ansar al-Jihad, issued an online
manifesto announcing its formation and pledging allegiance to
“While it is still too early to tell whether the Sinai will
emerge as a real front in al- Qaida’s war against the West, the way North Africa
and the Persian Gulf now are, it is already clear that the bin Laden network is
working to exploit the Sinai’s strategic vacuum–and Egypt’s Islamist ferment,”
he wrote. “If it succeeds, it would mark a giant step backward for Middle
Eastern stability, and for our progress in the war on terror.”