Eagle set to soar
Ahmed Eleiba reports that Sinai's military mission has simply been revised
Operation Eagle, the military campaign conducted in the wake of the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Rafah last month by unidentified assailants, has not been put on hold, a military source told Al-Ahram Weekly. A tactical revision in deployment will take place in the next few days now that sufficient intelligence has become available to continue with the mission in which considerable progress has already been made, he said.
The source was effectively countering criticism that had been levelled against the operation which seemed to have ground to a halt since the feast that marked the end of Ramadan when many units returned to camps in Bir Al-Abed, Balouza and Khurba. According to his information, the tactical adjustments will involve dispensing with some heavy units while retaining those necessary to the operation.
The source noted that units of the Armed Forces will leave and be replaced by forces of the civil police especially in Area C.
He added that it was not advisable to reveal the plans of the operation at this point and that its accomplishments would be made public at the appropriate time.
In tandem with the military operations, a dialogue, backed by the government, has been in progress with Jihadist groups. In an interview with the Weekly, Nazar Ghorab, a member of the former parliament representing the Construction and Development Party and a leader of a group that has initiated a series of dialogues with Jihadist groups in the Sinai, said that the first meeting in this series was held last week. The purpose of this "political track" was to prevent the reproduction of the former exclusively military approach to the problem. "We are moving as fast as possible in our attempts to engage these movements in dialogue so that they do not become embroiled in violent confrontations with security agencies and in the hope of persuading them to join the Construction and Development Party's battle for the restoration of stability."
Ghorab, a lawyer by profession, said, "we spent time in prison with these people at the time of the clampdowns under the former regime. So we respect one another, which is why we were given permission to launch this dialogue for the sake of stability. We believe that these groups, some of which were armed, are no longer necessary under the new regime, which we support. However, there are some people with the old security mindset that do not want to handle this diplomatically and are bent on dragging us backwards. This is why the government and its security agencies need to be purged of supporters of the old regime and people who refuse to deal with this on the basis of the higher national interest. We are preparing a report condemning the security agencies on this score. But, even if the battle between the Jihadists and the old guard is over, the change in government means that people have to change their attitudes and beliefs. This applies to both Islamist and non-Islamist movements."
On the progress made in the dialogues, Ghorab says, "in our previous meeting with these groups we established that they had no connection whatsoever with the Rafah incident and that this incident was the work of foreign forces that were determined to tamper with the security in the Sinai using agents on the ground. There are genuine fears that Mossad has infiltrated the area and that the danger includes attempts to obstruct development in this impoverished area." Pausing to point out that his team submits regular reports to the president's office on the meetings, Ghorab continued: "We have virtually certain information that [the Rafah] operation was masterminded by foreign saboteurs and that it is not the work of Islamists. All the Islamists, including the militant ones, believe that they should not work against the president and, also, that they should work for the realisation of security and stability."
Ghorab is of the conviction that the former regime had set the Jihadist groups against it because of its pro-Western and pro-colonialist policies. "In fact, there are still many who regard the Sinai as though it were a milk cow," he said. But now, he continued, these [Jihadist] movements have become engaged in the political process and they have no desire to confront the state because they are convinced of the need to work with it."
Ghorab agrees that the military track of Operation Eagle has accomplished many of its objectives even if its successes have not been made public yet. "There is physical and eyewitness testimony, and agents who are unconnected with the Jihadist groups have been arrested," he said.
With respect to the security protocols associated with the Camp David agreement, Ghorab believes that they may have been instrumental in creating the security vacuum in the Sinai. In his opinion, the protocols needed to be reviewed and perhaps the peace agreement itself should be reconsidered. "Abolishing the treaty would not mean war," he stressed. He quickly added, "It is the political leadership that has to take the necessary decisions on this matter, for it possesses the relevant information that no one else has access to. At the political level, there has to be change. The political leadership appreciates this and we have confidence in that leadership."
Not all share Ghorab's faith in the dialogue track. A high-level source who had served as a senior officer in General Intelligence held that so far the dialogues produced little more than "dust in our eyes". "These groups fully control their members, some of whom the security agencies have caught in connection with the Rafah incident and others of which have been connected with other attacks, such as the bombings of the natural gas pipeline in the Sinai. So, if those Jihadists really want to cooperate with the government, they need to offer something tangible instead of just airy arguments, which is all we have seen until now."
Nor did the former intelligence official reserve great praise for Operation Eagle. "Its accomplishments are not clear, for it has not furnished any visual evidence of any progress. In all events, it wasn't necessary to bring in all those tanks, which only worked to fabricate a crisis with Israel. We have special airborne forces that are fully capable of dealing with the situation. They can put an end to the terrorist lairs and shut down the mountain caves and the tunnels for good, and they can remain on the ready to respond immediately to any danger." With regard to the reports regarding tactical redeployment, he said, "they suggest that we are looking at a long-term operation in the Sinai with the purpose of keeping it under siege and hunting down outlaws. Instead of relying on soldiers, it would be better to use radar warning systems that constantly scan the area."
A former political prisoner who belonged to the Jihad organisation and is now an academician specialising in Jihadist movements believes that the group that is currently conducting the dialogues in the Sinai is seeking to score political gains under the new regime. Previously, this group had scored considerable material gains in its capacity as the Islamist Lawyers Group which had defended members of Jihadist organisations in trials that took place under the old regime. The source went on to say, "the map of the Jihadists in the Sinai is diffuse and cannot be easily brought under control because their cells are dispersed over a large area. Also, the main Jihadist cells are opposed to dialogue and do not approve of the people who are holding the dialogues on the grounds that those people had lured former comrades into making ideological retractions. The main Jihadist cells now regard those former comrades as turncoats. They also reject dialogue with the government because it has not proclaimed an Islamic state and established rule by Islamic law. Accordingly, they believe that dialogue is futile." The source adds, "I don't know who imposed this idea of dialogue on the government because it is a strategic mistake."