For the last four years, an ever expanding war has been raging in the Sinai Peninsula between Islamic Jihadist rebels and the Egyptian government.
What started as clashes between various relatively small and diverse groups supported by local Bedouin tribes has, in recent months, accelerated to a full-blown war with large-scale military formations that threatens not only Egypt but Israel as well.
Sinai is a large triangular peninsula in Egypt about 23,000 square miles in area, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and is the only part of Egypt located in Asia, with a population of approximately 1.4 million, mostly semi-nomadic Bedouins.
The Sinai has remained a part of Egypt from the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt (c. 3100 BCE). In periods of foreign occupation, the Sinai was also occupied and controlled by foreign empires, like the Ottoman Empire (1517-1867) and Great Britain (1882-1956). In 1956 Israel invaded and occupied Sinai during the Suez Crisis, and during the Six-Day War of 1967. On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt launched the Yom Kippur War to retake the peninsula, which was the site of fierce fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces. By 1989, as a result of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel had withdrawn from all of it.
In recent years, Sinai has been the site of several terror attacks against tourists; most were Egyptian. Investigations have shown these were mainly motivated by a resentment of the poverty faced by many Bedouin in the area. Attacking the tourist industry was viewed as a method of damaging the industry so that the government would pay more attention to their situation.
Unrest has become more prevalent in the area since the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
From the start of the year until the end of June, 77 civilians, soldiers and judges were killed in attacks, while 163 militants died either carrying out a sortie or defending against an Egyptian counter-attack.
Here are just a few incidents that have happened this month:
- July 1: Militants launched one of the largest attacks since the insurgency begun in 2011, on multiple Egyptian checkpoints, killing 64 soldiers. The attack also targeted the Sheikh Zuweid police station.
Reinforcements from the Second Army stationed in Ismailia have been deployed to Sheikh Zuweid, and F-16 fighter jets are targeting militants in the city. Militants have reportedly killed several civilians who refused to allow them onto their rooftops to target security forces.
- July 4: A shell struck a house in Sheikh Zuweid, killing a woman and her two children. On the same day, a roadside bomb targeting army and police vehicles killed a 5-year-old child.
- July 15: Twenty militants were killed as security forces repelled an attack on a security checkpoint in North Sinai.
- July 16: “Sinai Province” attacked an Egyptian navy patrol ship near the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip with a guided missile. The Egyptian military confirmed the incident. The attack is considered the first maritime attack of DAESH (ISIS) and its allied militant groups.
With the merger of DAESH (ISIS) and the Sinai Province we are seeing disturbing developments along Israel’s southern borders:
The use of large, disciplined, well-trained and well-commanded heavily-armed battalion and brigade formations in the fight against the Egyptian army in Sinai.
- A capable naval commando force.
- Heavy ISIS infiltration in Gaza.
- Rockets firing into Israel from Sinai.
- A direct threat to Eilat and the Western access road to the city.
Israel is, of course, working with its peace partner Egypt to deal with their common enemy. I am glad that after a two-year hiatus, the U.S. administration is also providing democratically elected President Al-Assisi with the weapons and tools he needs to fight this vicious, Islamist, anti-American insurgency.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org