Analysis: Sinai likely to be hit again

Expert says local help, foreigners' presence makes it a popular target.

dahab bombing 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
dahab bombing 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Islamic terrorists who carried out Monday night's attacks in Dahab, and who perpetrated three major attacks in Sinai over the last two years, are likely to strike again, Danny Arditi, head of the National Security Council's counter-terrorism unit, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "I think that they will try again, and am afraid they will succeed," he said. "In the current situation, it is not possible to prevent large terrorist attacks in Sinai." Arditi said it was reasonable to believe Monday's attack was carried out by associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq. He said there was no known Hamas connection at this time. He also said there were a number of reasons why Sinai had turned into a favorite target: the large presence of Israeli tourists in an Arab country; the fact that it is "easy to come and go" into Sinai; it is a popular international tourist site; and because of the cooperation of the local population. The last factor, he said, was the most important. "There is sufficient cooperation from the local population to make it possible for the terrorists to work there," he said. The Beduin population was willing to cooperate, primarily for economic reasons, but there was also a small degree of ideological motivation as well. Arditi said this was less a matter of religious motivation, and more of a deep enmity toward the Egyptian government because of the way they feel they have been mistreated over the years. Asked to explain Egypt's repeated inability to stop large-scale attacks in Sinai, Arditi said Israel did not always succeed in thwarting attacks either. He added that the Egyptian security services were not as well trained as Israel's, and that they were not as widely deployed. Recently, he said, Egyptian efforts in this regard had improved, and they "understand the gravity of the situation." Arditi said that the Egyptians had deployed more police, and were doing more to gather intelligence in Sinai than they had in the past. Although Arditi expressed satisfaction that most Israelis had heeded the advisories his unit had put out for months warning against travel to Sinai, he said that over the Pessah holiday some 8,000 Israelis went there. This number, however, was less than half the number during Pessah 2005. Arditi said that neither the attack in Sinai, nor Monday's announcement in Amman that a Hamas plot to attack senior government officials was uncovered, posed a serious enough threat to the regimes in either Egypt or Jordan to necessitate an overall reevaluation of Israel's strategic situation in the region. "These are stable regimes which understand the gravity of the problem," he said. By contrast, in February OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh sparked a diplomatic row with Jordan by saying that King Abdullah could be toppled by an Islamic axis and be the last Hashemite king of Jordan. Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinski also angered the Egyptians at the same time by saying Israel discerned the first signs of instability within Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. One senior government source said Monday that the tight Jordanian-Israeli strategic cooperation bounced back following the initial Jordanian anger over Naveh's comments, and that this cooperation was currently "at the highest levels possible." The source said that, although there was some frustration in Jerusalem that this cooperation had not carried over into the diplomatic sphere, there was "intimate" intelligence and strategic cooperation between the two countries. The source said that intelligence and strategic cooperation also existed with Egypt, but not at the same level, and that this was because, for Jordan, cooperation with Israel is - to a certain degree - an existential necessity, while it is not for Egypt. The source predicted, however, that cooperation would increase with Cairo following Monday's bombing.