Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Reverting to old tactics

The latest developments in Sinai show that the peninsula’s extremists are fast losing ground, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In two major developments in Sinai, the Martyr’s Right campaign against takfiri militants has entered its second phase and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdas, which is now an Islamic State (IS) affiliate and calls itself the IS Sinai Province, bombed the Egyptian-Jordanian gas pipeline.

The attack, which took place close to the village of Al-Midan, west of Al-Arish, is the first time the group has attacked the gas pipeline since swearing allegiance to IS.

In a statement announcing the resumption of the Martyr’s Right campaign, an army spokesman said operations targeting extremists resumed on 4 January. On 5 January, according to the spokesman, 32 terrorists were killed and six arrested during exchanges of gunfire.

A storehouse containing 80 explosive devices and four tons of narcotics was also destroyed. On 6 January, 11 more terrorists were killed during raids on hideouts. Two days later, on 8 January, 14 extremists were killed and 13 suspects arrested in Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid.

Military expert General Hisham Al-Halabi, an advisor at the Higher Nasser Military Academy, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the “large number of strikes” being carried out by the second and third field armies, commando forces and antiterrorist units in Sinai suggest that “a comprehensive pre-emptive operation” is underway.

“It is important to seize the advantage gained by the first phase of Operation Martyr’s Right and prevent any regrouping of takfiri forces,” Al-Halabi said.

“The Salafist jihadist movement no longer has a presence in Sinai that one could call worrisome. The remnants of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis that claim allegiance to IS are bankrupt. Their only aim is propagandistic, to keep their name in the media.”

Al-Halabi argues that the attack against the Egyptian-Jordanian gas pipeline, considered an easy target, is evidence of the group’s dwindling capability.

The first phase of the Martyr’s Right military operation in Sinai was carried out between 7 and 22 September 2015. It resulted in the killing of 535 terrorists. Eleven members of the Armed Forces (nine conscripts and two officers) were killed during the campaign.

 

THE GAS PIPELINE BOMBING: On Thursday, Sinai Province claimed responsibility for bombing the gas pipeline west of Al-Arish. The pipeline has been the target of 30 separate attacks since 2014.

In 2012, Egypt announced that all gas exports to Israel had been suspended. Rumours then began to circulate in Egypt about gas supply deals in the opposite direction, from Israel to Egypt. These were officially laid to rest in December when an international arbitration commission ruled that two Egyptian oil and gas companies had to pay $1.76 billion to their Israeli partner to compensate for the losses it sustained from the halt in the supply of natural gas from Egypt in 2012.

In a statement to the press following the pipeline attack, Naim Jabr, general coordinator of the Association of North Sinai Bedouin Tribes, said there was an electricity blackout across the whole of Al-Arish following the explosion.

“Rapid intervention forces from the Interior Ministry and military units were deployed around the site of the incident, at the entrances to Al-Arish and along major thoroughfares to apprehend the perpetrators,” said Jabr. “Civil defence forces also arrived to bring the fire resulting from the explosion under control.”

Jordan, which has been mandated by participants at the Vienna meeting on Sinai to draw up a comprehensive list of terrorist organisations in Syria, may have been the real target of the pipeline attack. In its claim of responsibility, Sinai Province warned that “not another drop of fuel” would be allowed to reach Jordan without “the permission of the leader of the faithful”.

In a related development, Israeli intelligence is said to be keeping a close eye on the situation in Sinai, according to a December report in Yediot Ahronoth, a national daily newspaper based in Tel Aviv. Israel’s intelligence agencies have identified Sinai Province as a threat to Israel and are therefore supporting the Egyptian army in its campaign in Sinai by providing intelligence and monitoring assistance, the report said.

Tarek Fahmi, Israeli affairs expert at the Middle East Centre for Strategic Studies, says it is important to differentiate between reports that appear in the Israeli press and Israeli government policy. It is only to be expected that Israeli agencies are following the situation in Sinai closely, he told the Weekly.

There is growing concern in security circles that it is only a matter of time before IS declares its presence inside Israel. Cells linked with IS have already been discovered in the West Bank and Israel fears they will soon be in a position to infiltrate its territory.

“There is strong commitment to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty on both sides. For Israel it offers a framework for mutual cooperation against the dangers posed by IS,” said Fahmi.

“Israeli national security is increasingly focussed on developing a mechanism for the confrontation with Daesh, and that is being lent impetus by the fact that the fight against the terrorism has become a priority for Egypt and Jordan.

“Tel Aviv’s decision to allow Egyptian special forces to operate in Sinai demonstrates that Israel is willing to be flexible over the provisions of the security annex of the Camp David accords.”

Fahmi believes the Israelis may be contemplating an open confrontation against jihadist organisations in Gaza, from where terrorist groups could launch attacks into Israel itself, and is therefore lending its support to the campaign Egypt is waging against similar terrorist groups in Sinai.

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