Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Intelligence remains the key

Simultaneous terrorist strikes in Sinai on Sunday raise questions about the efficacy of military strategy, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

The worst of the three attacks in Sinai on Sunday was the suicide bombing of Al-Arish’s 3rd precinct which resulted in the destruction of the precinct building. A second terrorist attack targeted an armoured vehicle close to the Karm Al-Qawadis checkpoint while the third focussed on officers and conscripts in the Al-Masoura district in Rafah. Nine conscripts and two police captains lost their lives.

Investigators at the scene of the first attack say the operation had been planned well in advance. Two to three tons of explosives, including C-4 and TNT, are thought to have been concealed close to the target.  Smuggling such a quantity would have involved several journeys.

C-4, which is five times more powerful than TNT, can destroy armoured vehicles. Military experts believe knowhow in the use of the explosive was provided by operatives with experience of ISIS combat operations in Syria, though C-4 is also used by Palestinian militias.

The truck used in the suicide bombing had been stolen from the Electricity Authority in Al-Arish a month ago. As it approached the police department, ostensibly to deliver concrete to a nearby site, shots were fired from a passing private car to distract security personnel.

The incident – the 11th attack against the Al-Arish 3rd precinct department since January 2011 – inevitably raises questions over the tactics currently being employed against extremists in the peninsula. Certainly, the frequency of terrorist attacks has not declined to the degree expected given the extensive campaigns being waged jointly by the army and police against terrorist strongholds in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. So does current strategy need to be reconsidered?

There is, point out military experts, no such thing as a fool-proof plan. The real problem, says a senior intelligence affairs source, lies not so much with the overall strategy but with tactics on the ground.

It is clear that terrorist cells in Sinai have sophisticated operational capacities and their infiltration of civilian circles is high. It is therefore essential, says the source, to further develop intelligence gathering capacity and the way information that has been obtained is analysed. While the human factor is crucial in operations, it is also important to bring more heavy duty equipment and machinery into play around possible security targets. He also advises the expanded use of drones. At the moment they operate only in areas where terrorist organisations are thought to be based.

Mohamed Sabri, an independent journalist from north Sinai, believes “civilians, and particularly Bedouins, are the missing link”.

“Urban areas such as Al-Arish are less dangerous than Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. If the state could win over more civilians it would have a huge impact on operations in north Sinai. Cooperation on the level of information gathering and interaction with forces in the field in the most dangerous areas is very low. One reason is that the terrorists run their own intelligence apparatus that identifies and targets collaborators,” he says. 

Sabri argues that young Bedouins recruited as suicide bombers act less out of an ideological belief in jihad than from a desire for revenge.

“They are lured into the ranks of terrorist organisations by claims that the army has destroyed the tunnels that formed the source of their livelihood, the fields that they cultivated and the homes in which they lived. Some excesses in security operations have fed this mode of recruitment.” He adds that while security agencies acknowledge that there have been some excesses they try to underplay them.

Some Bedouins with connections to terrorist groups, involved in smuggling and the illegal arms trade, appear to have eluded security forces and fled to Gaza. Once there they contact networks that Hamas is either not involved with or that it has chosen to ignore.

An intelligence source who has worked on the issue told Al-Ahram Weekly: “Hamas consistently denies the presence of individuals and avoids cooperating with Egypt’s security authorities by handing them over. There is a long list of names of people who are wanted by the authorities but who managed to escape because of their local knowledge of escape routes.”

 According to another Sinai source the recruitment of foreigners in Sinai is very limited. He points out that Abu Osama Al-Masri, commander of Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, is an Egyptian, not a foreigner.

According to military reports 2,000 terrorists were eliminated in 2014. A similar figure has been eliminated since the beginning of this year.

A military source told the Weekly: “Our estimates suggest that the majority of terrorist operatives have already been taken out. Whether they can rebuild numbers is contingent on their recruitment rates, while the continuing impact of terrorist operations will depend on the kinds of attacks they launch as well as the pre-emptive operations undertaken by counterterrorist forces. Losses in the ranks of the army and security forces is declining while those in the ranks of the terrorist organisation are climbing.”

Sunday's terrorist attacks coincided with changes in senior military personnel. General Mohamed Al-Shahat, the commander of the second army, has been appointed director of military intelligence, replacing General Salah Al-Badri who becomes assistant minister of defence. Military sources stress that the changes are purely procedural: having reached retirement age the former military intelligence chief was duly replaced by the next most senior official. Yet changes at the top of military intelligence are crucial. Information remains the most valuable commodity in the war against terrorism.

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