Egyptian military tanks, flags in Sinai.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is only natural that the Egyptian military’s crackdown on northern Sinai’s
terrorists and Islamic fanatics has flown under the radar of international
There are, after all, bigger stories to focus on – such as the
But what is happening in Sinai is nothing less than
pivotal for the region – even if it does not generate headlines.
pursuit of the extremist Ansar Bayt al- Maqdis is a dramatic development,
whether Western opinion deems it so or not.
The organization admitted
culpability for last week’s suicide bombing that targeted Egyptian Interior
Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. It further served notice on Cairo’s new rulers that it
will wreak vengeance for the toppling of Mohamed Morsi and the offensive against
the assorted jihadist groups. These had ensconced themselves in the no-man’s
land where Sinai borders Israel and, crucially, the Gaza Strip – a source of
manpower, munitions and infrastructure for Sinai’s terrorists.
confrontation might well not be containable and might spread to other parts of
Egypt. It is for this reason that Cairo has significantly stepped up security at
crossing points between the peninsula and mainland Egypt.
And Ansar Bayt
al-Maqdis (the original Arabic appellation for Jerusalem, ironically a
mispronunciation of the Hebrew name for the Temple, Beit Hamikdash) is not
alone. Far larger still is the Salafiya Jihadiya (Salafist Jihad) which also
operates in Sinai. To boot, Beduin marauders run their own outlaw operations, in
conjunction with the terrorists or alongside.
The sad fact of Egyptian
reality is that Sinai is only nominally Egyptian and Cairo’s rule barely extends
It was always nearly extraterritorial, an anarchic expanse whose
Beduin tribes feel exempt from the jurisdiction of any central government. Their
insubordination went chronically unchecked, under all Egyptian regimes. Any
attempt to control them was met by violence.
Sinai’s disorderly domains
irresistibly beckon jihadist militias including al-Qaida and its allies, to say
nothing of Hamas across the line in Gaza. Egypt’s internal strife had opened new
vistas for the forces of obdurate Islam and enhanced existing ones. Foreign
firebrands, whose strings are pulled from Gazan control centers, flock
In collusion with armed, lawless Beduin bands, they engage in
assorted jihadist extravaganzas – from attacking Egyptian officers and rocketing
Israel to blowing up gas pipelines and taking tourists hostage.
manner of depredation proliferate in Sinai’s opportune setting.
Islamist insurgents aim to destabilize Egypt, the Arab world’s largest state.
Some groups see chaos as their goal while others seek the restoration of Muslim
In this context, Cairo’s new powers-that-be
perforce oppose Hamas, which is a Brotherhood offshoot. This is not done for the
love of Israel. Cairo suspects that Hamas actively aids pro-Brotherhood
subversion and sabotage in Sinai and beyond.
The upshot is that Egypt has
largely destroyed Gaza’s vast system of tunnels, which besides being a smuggling
conduit, was also a Hamas money-maker. Fatah, Hamas’s rival in the Palestinian
arena, is reportedly buoyed and even mulling attempts to wrest Gaza from Hamas
control. The question is whether Egypt’s new regime would facilitate such
challenges. This of course is no more than a hypothetical now, but Hamas is in
Much of the Strip’s socioeconomic infrastructure is
crumbling and this time world opinion cannot remotely point an accusing finger
at Israel. The commonest misrepresentation of the situation in Gaza is the
contention that it is under Israeli siege. Gaza, however, is not surrounded by
Israel. The border with Egypt is often tendentiously overlooked, even when truly
momentous events are afoot there.
The No. 1 existential danger to Israel
doubtless comes from Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
warfare is probably second on the danger list for the immediate future. Yet,
although ignored at the moment, the power vacuum in the Sinai should rank right
up there as well.
Cairo’s campaign against the Sinai-based terror mongers
could be a game-changer or at least the harbinger of one. The implications for
Israel are profound.