For quite a few hours it was assumed last Wednesday that terrorists had launched the attack from Sinai on IDF troops patrolling, inside Israel, along the border with Egypt. It wasn’t far-fetched conjecture considering that the extremist Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis rushed to claim responsibility. Wounding an Israeli officer and her adjutant was a prestige-booster.
Later, however, it transpired that this was a drug smuggling caper gone wrong. Nonetheless, there is no cause for any sigh of relief here.
The undeniable fact of Sinai’s anarchic reality is that the lines between crime and terrorism are so blurred that they often become altogether indistinguishable. Sinai’s rampaging outlaws dabble in everything indiscriminately. All their diverse illegal pursuits are intrinsically intertwined and mutually beneficial.
Last week’s incident is a telling case in point. The drug-runners weren’t penny-ante operators. They rode in combat vehicles and were armed with anti-tank rockets. They had no hesitation to take the offensive and open fire once they understood that the Israelis had detected them.
Their battle-grade weaponry and equipment – along with the trigger-happy response by these drug-traffickers and their sophisticated ambush tactics – prop up the perception that they aren’t exclusively small-time Beduin felons in league with equally small-time Beduin accomplices in Israel’s Negev.
The symbiotic links between narcotics contrabandists and jihadist warriors isn’t new or surprising. We have known it for many years in Lebanon, where the Shiite Hezbollah has maintained a close partnership with local drug lords.
The vast no-man’s-land that the Sinai constitutes irresistibly beckons jihadist militias including Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates, to say nothing of Hamas across the line in Gaza. Egypt’s internal strife 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.
Prominent among them are the zealots of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (the original Arabic appellation for Jerusalem, ironically a mispronunciation of the Hebrew name for the Temple, Beit Hamikdash). This outfit was once clearly tied to al Qaida but is now considered an Islamic State subsidiary. Also operating in Sinai on a very large scale is the Salafiya Jihadiya (Salafist Jihad). Numerous Beduin marauders run their own brigand operations both in conjunction with the terrorists or alongside.
Thus, in collusion with armed lawless Beduin bands, terrorists engage in assorted jihadist extravaganzas – from attacking Egyptian officers and rocketing Israel to blowing up gas pipelines and taking tourists hostage. All manner of depredation proliferate in the Sinai’s opportune setting.
The foremost aim of the various Islamist insurgents is the destabilization of Egypt, the Arab world’s largest state. Some groups see disarray as their goal while others seek the restoration of Muslim Brotherhood hegemony.
The disorderly domains of Sinai are only nominally Egyptian and Cairo’s rule barely extends to them. Indeed it was always nearly extraterritorial, a chaotic expanse whose Beduin tribes feel exempt from the jurisdiction of any central government. Their insubordination went chronically unchecked, under all Egyptian regimes. Any attempt to control them was met by violent reactions.
Such confrontation might likely not be containable and might spread to other parts of Egypt. It is for this reason that Cairo has significantly stepped up security at crossing points between the Sinai Peninsula and mainland Egypt. This isn’t done for the love of Israel.
Cairo knows full well that Hamas actively aids and abets pro-Brotherhood subversion and sabotage in Sinai and throughout Egypt and has consistently been an obliging source of manpower, munitions and infrastructure for Sinai’s terrorists.
The number-one existential danger Israel faces doubtless comes from Iran and its nuclear ambitions. The Islamic State predations in both Syria and Iraq – and the threats they pose beyond – are probably second on the danger list for the immediate future. Yet, although largely ignored at the moment, the power-vacuum in the Sinai should rank right up there as well.
Cairo’s ongoing campaign against the Sinai-based terror-mongers is nothing to sneeze at. In this context, Cairo’s current powers-that-be perforce oppose Hamas, which is an active and uncompromising Muslim Brotherhood offshoot.
The implications for Israel are profound.
Thank you for clarfying this mess dear Sarah.
For now, the clock is ticking down for mullah Obamas treacherous Iran deal.
The mullah in chief and his underling Kerry are still trying to sell out Jewish land and at the same time, to allow their Iranian mullah darlings to go nuclear.
I pray for the November elections, TO SMASH the traitors…!
If the United States, with its ghoulish, Cape Cod fraternity boy Sec. of State, John Kerry, would stay out of the “Peace Process,” Israel and Egypt could combine to crush the terrorist/drug dealers in Sinai, no? Could this be accomplished, to some degree, anyway?
Very good analysis, Sarah, as usual. Permit me to expand on your comments.
Israel should not have surrendered Sinai for a piece of paper. Agreements between enemies are useless without the right facts on the ground and then they are merely ceremonial. Agreements between civilized people can be useful, to clarify points that might be relevant in case there are disputes brought to court.
At most, Begin should have offered co-dominion (that’s not “condominium”). The root word here is “dominion” and the prefix means it is shared. This could be accomplished by drawing a line (let us say, on the Egyptian side of the new railroad or new canal) or through competing governments in the same territory.
Instead, Begin bargained away valuable land with many improvements, foolishly thinking this would buy peace and assuming the land was less valuable according to theological theory. Reality and reason should trump fantasy and religion.
Drug prohibition raises prices of many drugs by as much as 1000x (based on my calculations of cost of materials when purchased legally, vs. their cost when combined into an illegal form). Even pot prices come down with mild liberalization (to the frustration of pot growers in Seattle).
This price premium attracts gun slingers and gangs, driving out legitimate businessmen. Disputes over territory and deals gone bad are governed by the greatest might, not natural right or any kind of legitimate court. Obviously drugs are legal according to natural law; hence positive law should reflect this. Financially subsidizing foreign terrorists, when domestic businessmen could do the job much more cheaply, and safely, is a form of treason.
Don’t forget the Taliban, financed by expanding opium poppy agriculture for export to infidels.
Most likely the Sisi government is secretly cooperating with the IDF over security in Sinai. It seems unbelievable now, how in the 90s many Israelis traveled to Sinai. One of the attractions then, though, was the access to drugs.
I do wonder how things would have turned out if Sadat had saved his skin by refusing to sign the Camp David accords. Israel would have kept the Sinai and “land for peace” would not have become a precedent. Camp David would not have become an ideal that every US president wanted to imitate (create Middle East Peace (TM), win Nobel Peace Prize, win place in history). Gaza would have been completely under Israeli control. Sadat would have reigned longer in Egypt. Both Israel and Egypt would have been without the “peace dividend” aid, but the US might have made different aid arrangements. Perhaps then Jordan would not have signed a peace treaty, or perhaps it would have, and thereby would have set a precedent for peace without ceding land.
I’m sure your thoughts on that scenario would be interesting, Sarah.