Israel's Sinai dilemma

The growing presence of terrorist groups in Sinai threaten Israeli national security, but unlike the Gaza Strip, Israel can't openly carry out counter-terrorism strikes in sovereign Egyptian territory.

Egyptian tanks arriving in Sinai city of Rafah 370 (R) (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Egyptian tanks arriving in Sinai city of Rafah 370 (R)
(photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Reports emerging from the Sinai Peninsula of an Israeli drone strike on a jihadi rocket-launching cell remain unconfirmed. Israeli defense officials have been keeping quiet, and there is no way to independently corroborate the claims.
However, if Israel did carry out the strike, this would signify a dramatic precedent, marking the first time the IAF has conducted a pinpoint, preemptive counterterrorism strike on Egyptian territory.
Sinai, like Gaza, has become a hornet’s nest of terrorist activity, but unlike the Strip, the vast desert province is sovereign Egyptian territory, placing Israel in an ongoing dilemma on how to deal with emerging threats.
On the one hand, there is the need to respect Egyptian sovereignty and maintain the strategically vital peace treaty with Cairo, while on the other there is the obligation to defend southern Israel from the rising terrorist threat.
It seems fair to assume that the dilemma becomes moot when the lives of Israeli civilians or members of the security forces face an immediate threat, with little time to formulate a response.
Human life should take precedence over all other considerations.
Until now, the IDF’s focus in preparing for the deteriorating security situation has been on enhancing its ability to quickly identify threats, and direct accurate, devastating firepower at targets that can appear and disappear in the sand dunes.
Other preparations include the soon-to-be completed southern border barrier, stretching from Kerem Shalom near Gaza to Eilat.
The frontier fence is equipped with a range of advanced electronic sensors that feed command and control rooms with data.
Enhanced field intelligence capabilities along the border have also been improved, as the IDF is seeking to also gain a better understanding of what is occurring south of the barrier in order to decrease the chances of being taken by surprise.
Additionally, air defenses in the form of the Iron Dome rocket-defense system have been fortified around Eilat.
The Egyptian military, for its part, is engaged in a major counterterrorism campaign in Sinai – an effort that has increased tangibly since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi.
It’s no secret that the presence of al-Qaida-inspired fanatical armed groups in the peninsula threaten the national security of both countries.
Sinai’s terrorist groups are made up of radicalized local Beduin, residents of Egypt proper and foreign jihadi volunteers.
They have been busy training and procuring arms, including a variety of projectiles, machine guns and explosives, some of which originate from the abandoned arms storage facilities in Libya.
The IDF’s Southern Command assumes that the next attack from the peninsula is only a matter of time. The Sinai balancing act is set to continue into the foreseeable future.