Warnings still high of terror groups in Sinai targeting Israeli and other tourists under noses of Egyptian sec. forces.
By ARIEH O'SULLIVAN
Repeated warnings by top Israeli security and intelligence officials that Islamic terror cells have established a strong base in the Sinai donâ€™t necessarily put Israel as their top target.
Warnings are still high that the terror groups in the Sinai are targeting Israeli and other tourists there under the noses of the Egyptian security forces.
OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeâ€™evi (Farkash) even went so far as to say this week that Cairo was reluctant to move against al-Qaida bases set up in the Sinaiâ€™s high mountains, claims which Egypt has denied.
â€œThere is absolutely no al-Qaida base in the Sinai. Weâ€™ve made this point again and again,â€ an Egyptian security official who asked not to be named told AFP.
â€œWe excluded from the start any link between the perpetrators of the Sinai bombings and al-Qaida,â€ he added, referring to deadly attacks targeting tourist hot spots in the Sinai last October and this July.
In his intelligence briefing to the cabinet on Sunday, Farkash reportedly said Egypt was refraining form moving seriously against the terrorist bases for fear such an action might lead to retaliatory strikes on Egyptian cities. He also reportedly said the cells had banished residents from the area and placed mines around the bases to prevent an assault.
Farkashâ€™s warnings echo similar concerns made two weeks ago by Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, who said Islamic extremists that follow an al-Qaida ideology were growing in strength and were â€œstronger than even the Egyptians themselves were aware of.â€
Israeli and Egyptian officials have said they believe some of the suspects are holed up around Jabal Halal, a 900-meter peak full of caves and deep ravines some 50 kilometers south of El-Arish. They are suspected of being linked to the triple July 23 attacks in the southern Sinai resort of Sharm e-Sheikh that killed at least 64 people, as well as the October 7, 2004 bombings in Taba and another resort that killed more than 30.
Last month, Egypt dispatched thousands of security forces to hunt down the suspected terrorists, but were not very successful in their sweep. A police major-general and a lieutenant-colonel were killed by a land mine during the sweep. That blow led to the forcesâ€™ withdrawal.
Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on international terrorism at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said that the terrorists in the Sinai were not necessarily al-Qaida but rather local Bedouin drawn to support global Islamic terror.
The foothold made by global jihad fits with their pattern to latch on to no-manâ€™s lands around the world like al-Qaida did in Afghanistanâ€™s Tora Bora mountains or the triangle border region between Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, Schweitzer said.
â€œThis is global jihad acting as a mother spaceship where those angered or disenchanted for economic or other reasons can latch on. These are Bedouin who were disenchanted and got hooked on this Islamist ideology. They donâ€™t need thousands,â€ Schweitzer told The Jerusalem Post.
â€œTo say they have a foothold or headquarters are dramatic statements. This is part of their network. Egypt doesnâ€™t totally control the Sinai, but is taking measures to crack down because it has harmed the tourism,â€ he said.
Schweitzer said that striking Israel or Israeli targets was definitely a goal of world jihad in general and al-Qaida in particular, noting the 2002 attack on an Israeli airliner in Mombassa, Kenya. But he noted that hitting Israel was not a top priority for them.