Danger in Sinai

It is probably no more than coincidence that the latest foreign abductee in Sinai happened to be an Israeli.

Israeli kidnapped in Sinai 370 (photo credit: nsrawy.net)
Israeli kidnapped in Sinai 370
(photo credit: nsrawy.net)
Sinai Beduin have released Amir Omar Hasan, the 23- year-old Nazareth-resident they nabbed several days earlier. They also let go of his Norwegian traveling companion after receiving promises that the arrest of two of their kin on drugs charges would be reviewed.
It is probably no more than coincidence that the latest foreign abductee in Sinai happened to be an Israeli.
It is unlikely that his Beduin captors had shadowed him specifically and took him hostage because of his Israeli connection. Tourists of any nationality are just as likely to be grabbed and many have. Most are freed relatively quickly.
Beduin marauders have been snatching tourists with particular relish of late both to spring relatives held by the Egyptian authorities and to generate income via ransom. Israel’s fence on the Egyptian border has significantly cut their profitable narcotics and human trafficking operations (both of prostitutes and of illegal African migrants).
Hasan holidayed in Sinai and was traveling to Dahab Beach despite the strongest possible admonitions by Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau against setting foot in the increasingly ungovernable peninsula. Travel advisories that warn vacationers away from this destination could not be more explicit or acute.
These had succeeded over the past few years, especially since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, in dramatically reducing the number of Israelis and other Western tourists who cross from Israel into Sinai. But a stubborn trickle persists in heading there in reckless indifference to the warnings.
Most of the Israelis who still frequent Sinai are Arabs who trust that their ethnicity renders them immune to terrorist predations, assuming that Jews are the primary targets and therefore more at risk.
This of course is not necessarily so. Sinai is only nominally Egyptian and Cairo’s rule barely extends to it.
Mohamed Morsi’s regime has far more pressing law and order concerns closer to home. Sinai is nearly extraterritorial, a lawless expanse whose Beduin tribes feel exempt from the jurisdiction of any central government.
Even in Egypt’s more stable recent past the peninsula’s denizens were scarcely likely to toe Cairo’s line. Many of them, facilitated by local anarchy, always made their livelihood from a multiplicity of illegal occupations.
Their insubordination went chronically unchecked, under all Egyptian regimes. Any attempt to control them was met by violent opposition. International agreements make no impression on the tribal gangs that de facto rule Sinai.
Similarly unimpressed is Egyptian bureaucracy, no matter who rules in Cairo. Its super-snarled red tape effectively stymies all governmental executive decisions. Even policy edicts from the very top are unrecognizably ground down as they are subjected to arbitrary whims enforced along the way by inflated cadres of sluggish officials.
Egypt being Egypt, Cairo’s commands are never dependably implemented.
All that was immeasurably exacerbated by Egypt’s civil strife and the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sinai’s disorderly domain irresistibly beckon al-Qaida and allied jihadist militias, to say nothing of Hamas across the line in Gaza. The Arab Spring had opened new vistas for the forces of obdurate Islam and enhanced preexisting ones. Foreign firebrands, whose strings are pulled from Gazan control centers, are flocking in.
In alliance with armed outlaw Beduin bands they engage in assorted jihadist extravaganzas – from taking tourists hostage to blowing up gas pipelines. All manner of depredation proliferate in Sinai’s opportune setting.
The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood holds sway in Egypt makes little difference. In the eyes of jihadi extremists, even Cairo’s present headliners are infidels, because, they say, Morsi’s enforcement of Muslim tenets is not hard-line enough.
The fact that some Israelis can blithely ignore all this mandates reassessment. In cases of ingrained and adamant heedlessness, a tactic of last-resort must be employed.
Due to the requirements of foreign policy, the border with Egypt cannot be closed. If, however, Israelis rashly choose to vacation in Sinai, they should be required to sign forms at the border crossing confirming that they are apprised of the danger, and that they assume responsibility for throwing caution to the wind and know they will be on their own if they prefer foolhardiness to prudence.