Analysis: An intelligence black hole

Unlike Gaza where threats can be tracked, Sinai groups come from different clans, towns, ideological streams.

Beduins inspect their weapons in the Sinai Peninsula 370 (R) (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters)
Beduins inspect their weapons in the Sinai Peninsula 370 (R)
(photo credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters)
The Sinai Peninsula is a no-man’s land, IDF officers declared on Monday while noting that Israel’s biggest problem is the almost black hole it faces from an intelligence perspective.
If in the Gaza Strip, for example, the IDF faces an enemy consisting of a number of organized and structured terror groups – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees and others – in the Sinai this is not the case. Instead, there are groups of people who are connected by a similar ideology but otherwise don’t really have much to do with one another.
If in Gaza the IDF can identify the source of the various groups’ funding and can build a “tree” detailing on every branch the different operatives, their affiliation and religion, in Sinai it cannot do the same because everyone comes from a different clan, town and ideological stream.
These terrorists, mostly local Beduin from the Sinai, are also bound by a financial distress that has contributed to the general radicalization that is sweeping the general community in the Sinai.
The other problem for Israel is that for decades it has refrained from collecting intelligence on the Sinai for a good reason – Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt. But now, with the continued state of anarchy there, Israel’s eyes are not just on what is happening in Gaza, but also on the sand dunes to the southwest.
Proof of this is demonstrated by the number of terror warnings the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) have collected along the southern front over the past year. In the final tally, the number from the Sinai is greater than from Gaza. Ultimately that says it all, but the real question is what can Israel do about it? Not much. While Israel called on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy on Monday to take immediate action to regain control over the Sinai, expectations are not too high that anything significant will happen. The famous “Operation Eagle” the Egyptian military launched last summer came and went without any major achievements.
But Israel on its own has little maneuvering room in the peninsula, and this is the stark contrast today between the Sinai and Gaza. If in Gaza the IDF feels free to attack terrorists it claims are plotting attacks, it cannot do the same in the Sinai, where an Israeli attack would be a violation of Egyptian sovereignty and likely spell the end of the countries’ peace treaty.
But what will happen one day if an attack like that attempted on Sunday night succeeds? Israel has yet to answer, although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hinted what it might be during his tour of the scene of the attack on Monday.
Borrowing from his regular rhetoric on Iran, Netanyahu said: “When it comes to the security of the citizens of Israel, the State of Israel must and can rely only on itself. Nobody can fulfill this role other than the IDF and the security services of the State of Israel, and this is how we will continue to act.”