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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Whom is Egypt fighting against in Sinai?

Egypt's al-Masry al-Youm reports on the Egyptian army's operation in Sinai. After going through this lengthy article, it's not clear to me just whom the Egyptians are fighting. One thing seems certain: Letting them send more troops and equipment into Sinai in violation of the Camp David treaty is asking for trouble.
Moussa al-Delh, a member of Sinai’s influential Tarabeen tribe, was a fugitive before Egypt’s uprising began in January, accused of inciting violence against Egyptian security forces in the peninsula. Now he sits at a café in the center of Arish, the capital of North Sinai Governorate, and praises the army’s “purging” campaign.

“It is important to understand that the army is mainly targeting Islamists in Sinai, and not Bedouin outlaws, like some claim,” he says, adding that “outlaw” is a pre-revolutionary concept created by the much-resented State Security apparatus.

Little is known of whom exactly the army is now fighting in Sinai or why the fight is taking place.


Infiltrations from the Gaza Strip have also caused concerns about a rising Islamist insurgency in Sinai. Palestinian factions competing with Hamas’s control of Gaza are chased out and driven into Sinai by way of tunnels that bypass the tightly controlled border.

“Both Hamas and the military intelligence here in Arish have full information about all groups infiltrating into Egypt from Gaza. No one can expand and form a whole armed movement here, because they are well tracked,” says a Palestinian living in Arish who requested anonymity. He used to work in Gaza as a policeman under Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of Hamas’s rival Fatah, who ruled the Strip with a notoriously iron fist. Dahlan was chased out of Gaza when Hamas took over in 2007.

Dahlan’s “men” were mentioned by Arish’s military commander in an interview with Egyptian state-run TV as possibly implicated in the chaos in North Sinai, including the police station incident and the repeated bombings of a pipeline that carries Egyptian natural gas to Israel.

“I worked with Dahlan for 13 years. He is a patriotic man of institutions. How can he be accused of such irrelevant acts such as attacking a police station?” said the policeman, who is among some 350 officers who worked under Dahlan and fled to Egypt in 2007. “We have no operational links to any group. We are just ousted from Gaza and wish we can go and work in the West Bank at some point, but the Palestinian Authority didn’t offer us any job there.”

Dahlan has been accused of supporting radical Islamists in Gaza linked to Al-Qaeda in order to weaken Hamas’s control over the strip. He has also been ousted from his party, Fatah, after disputes with fellow partisans who accused him of being an agent of the United States.


Before the attacks in Israel on 18 August, Egyptian security forces were quick to call the operation a success. Deputy Interior Minister Ahmad Gamal Eddin said at a press conference last week that the campaign has so far managed to arrest members of al-Takfeer wal-Hijra and to collect arms and illegally acquired military uniforms. The assailants in the 18 August attack in Israel were reportedly wearing Egyptian army uniforms.

Security sources have also told local media that Palestinian members of the militant group Islamic Jihad were among those were arrested, some of whom were previously detained in Egyptian prisons and fled during the chaos of last winter’s uprising.

Local media have also reported on coordination between Hamas and the Egyptian army to monitor the movement of potential infiltrators to Sinai from Gaza through the tunnels, particularly from the Army of Islam and a little-known group Jaljalat. Both claim ties to Al-Qaeda.

Some experts on Islamist movements, such as Khaled al-Berry, suggest that the Army of Islam has loose ties to the Syrian regime, which is currently facing massive protests calling for its downfall.

Berry, who classifies groups like the Army of Islam as not strictly ideologically motivated and easily employed by political players, warns of possible chaos in Sinai being sponsored by an embattled Syrian regime trying to prove its strategic importance to the region.

But in the end, it seems, the threat came from none of those groups. The attack on southern Israel on Thursday that killed eight people was, according to Israel, perpetrated by insurgents from Palestinian Resistance Committees based in Gaza who infiltrated Sinai through tunnels.

The incident led Israeli officials to condemn Egypt’s unsuccessful military campaign in Sinai. Some Israeli commentators even suggested that the Israeli army move into Sinai and establish a security perimeter near the border.

According to Bedouin tribesmen in Sinai, some members of the Bedouin community are aiding military intelligence by providing them with information for the campaign. Delh, of the Tarabeen tribe, believes that Islamist groups do exist in Sinai, but he doesn’t see their threat as an imminent one. “I don’t know why the army was that alarmed. Those are issues for the rulers. But what I am sure of is that the tribal fabric outside of the cities has not been penetrated by any of those groups.”

For Ayoub, the Salafi sheikh and former member of al-Takfeer wal Hijra, the military campaign is an excessive show of force without a clear reason. “I don’t think there is a danger that requires having 2000 troops, 250 tanks and four planes in Sinai,” he says.

Islamists in Sinai suggest that the military operation is a show of force to secure support from the United States, which already provides the Egyptian military with more than US$1 billion per year.

Ali, the university administrator in Arish, however, supports the operation. “I am not sure Islamists are here for real, but either way, Sinai does need some purging and only the army can do it,” he says. “When I found the army in the streets of my town, I felt I am in my country.”
Can you keep track of whom the Egyptian army is chasing? I can't. And that's the problem - I don't think anyone, including the Egyptian army, has the slightest clue what they are doing there.

Read the whole thing. Especially those Israelis who insist on visiting Sinai. Maybe you'll realize how lucky you are to be alive and will not insist on visiting Sinai again.

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At 4:02 PM, Blogger Empress Trudy said...

Good. Let them slaughter one another to the last man standing.


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