Sinai attack kills 24 Egyptian policemen

Victims apparently shot execution-style; Egypt’s military will need to use commandos to control peninsula, says expert.

Egyptian army tanks en route to Rafah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Egyptian army tanks en route to Rafah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
In the Sinai Peninsula, where attacks on security forces have multiplied since president Mohamed Morsi’s removal, suspected Islamist terrorists killed at least 24 policemen on Monday.
Three policemen were also wounded in the grenade and machine-gun attack near the north Sinai town of Rafah on the border with Israel, medical and security sources said.
Photos circulated on social media and purporting to show the aftermath of the attack showed victims lying with their hands tied behind them, apparently shot execution- style. They were not in uniform. The photos could not be immediately verified.
A sniper also shot dead a policeman in the Sinai city of El-Arish, the state news agency said, quoting a security source.
Mounting insecurity in Sinai worries Egypt and also the United States because the desert peninsula lies next to Israel and the Palestinians’ Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, as well as the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important shipping arteries.
Mordechai Kedar, director of the new Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post that the situation in Sinai “is almost an all-out war.”
Asked if he thinks the Egyptian military has the capability to calm the Sinai, Kedar responded that it could if it allocated enough resources and firepower. The key factor is motivation, he said.
Furthermore, Kedar asserted that the issue “cannot be solved with tanks,” and that “they need to use commando units because they fight in caves and mountains,” where land vehicles cannot go.
The Sinai is almost three times the size of Israel and largely lawless. Where there are no roads, there is no law, stated Kedar.
Noting that many Beduin are not part of the jihadist groups, Kedar said that it takes “no more than a thousand [terrorists] to make Sinai go to hell.”
In an article on his blog titled “The Curse of Sinai,” Kedar wrote that the Sinai was never “an integral part of Egypt” but was annexed only in the 20th century when Britain ruled the country.
Kedar attributes this to the wish of creating some distance between the Ottoman Empire and the Suez Canal.
After Israel withdrew from the territory in 1982 and the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Beduin became the intermediary between Gaza and Egypt, Kedar said.
He noted that Hamas has “tried to turn the Sinai into a secondary base from which to attack Israel, and because it was sovereign Egyptian territory,” it serves to restrain Israel from responding.
Joshua Goodman, a PhD student at Yale who is an expert on the Beduin in Israel and Sinai, stated to the Post that the concentration of the violence is centered around Rafah and El- Arish, which “strongly suggests the fight is less about Sinai-specific issues than it is about the ongoing geopolitical standoff between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood, and between the military and the Palestinians.”
He noted that there is a relative lack of violence outside the northern corridor, and south Sinai has remained absolutely silent.
“The only unrest is in west Sinai, in the cities like Suez and Port Said, and in the northern cities of Rafah and El-Arish.”
Goodman concluded that this means that not too many Beduin are involved in this fight, though he says that “violence in Sheikh Zuwaid calls into question the involvement of some members of the Suwarka tribe, probably cooperating with elements in Rafah, as usual.”
“Considering how big Sinai is, very few have properly observed that a large bulk of the violence is concentrated in a tiny portion of the peninsula, pushed right up against the border.”
This leads Goodman to believe that much of the insurgency is an urban one, and that the terrorists cannot function too far from the towns and cannot subsist in the desert.