Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Covering all fronts

Crossborder concerns are not being allowed to deflect attention away from the domestic terrorist threat, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Cairo has just received the second shipment of three French-made Rafale fighter jets. The first batch arrived in July last year, meaning Cairo has taken possession of six of the 24 jets it contracted from France in February 2015 in the largest-ever Egyptian-French armament deal.

In addition to the Rafales, which are manufactured by Dassault Aviation, the deal includes a FREMM (Frégate Européenne Multi-missions) multipurpose frigate.

The arrival of the new Rafales occasioned a festive aerial display over Cairo as part of the official ceremonies marking their entry into service. But important missions also await the new fighters.

Five years ago the Rafale’s superb aerial combat capabilities were on display in the campaign to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. Today, Libya has emerged as a major security headache for Egypt, and for much of the rest of the world, as the Islamic State (IS) expands its foothold there. As concerned states ready themselves to engage in battle against IS in Libya, the French-made Rafale will once again play a role in the Libyan theatre.

The Higher Nasser Military Academy’s General Hisham Al-Halabi insists Egypt’s military strategy abroad remains defensive and the military actions that Egypt has undertaken abroad in recent years do not signify a shift towards the offensive. They are, he says, part and parcel of a longstanding defensive strategy centred on the need to safeguard Egyptian national security and which may require action abroad from time to time.

Such are the principles that Al-Halabi says govern Egypt’s participation in the war in Yemen, within the framework of the international coalition to restore legitimacy. The Rafale, which has a range of 3,700 km, is likely to be an important asset in operations there.

Al-Halabi argues that the diversity of external threats facing Egypt has forced it to acquire new armaments systems and, in the process, diversify its armament suppliers.

Egypt is also facing formidable internal security challenges. Domestically, the takfiri threat is concentrated in northern Sinai.

The latest spate of terrorist attacks in Sinai has relied mainly on improvised explosive devices. A bomb planted on Madrasa Ahmed Orabi Street in the centre of Al-Arish detonated in front of an armoured police vehicle last Thursday, killing two police officers from Al-Arish second precinct police station, and wounding two other officers and three police conscripts from the North Sinai Security Directorate.

A day earlier, an army colonel and three soldiers were killed and 13 conscripts wounded when an IED was detonated besides their military vehicle on the international highway near the Midan security checkpoint west of Al-Arish. The same area witnessed an attack on Monday in which three police conscripts were wounded.

On 21 January, an army, captain and three soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack on a checkpoint in Al-Arish’s Al-Atlawi.

Sinai Province, the local affiliate of IS, has increasingly focussed its operations on military and civilian targets in and around Al-Arish. It is also striking moving, rather than stationary, targets using IEDs. Fixed installations are far better secured than they once were, with newly constructed perimeter walls making approach all but impossible.

Local sources say the movements of mobile targets in residential areas are sometimes monitored by female recruits to IS, and occasionally by children who are used to track the targets and even to plant the explosive devices.

IEDs are often detonated via mobile phones. Unfortunately, the bomb detection equipment deployed by the army in Sinai only functioned when mobile jamming devices were not in use, leaving bomb disposal units vulnerable to attack.

Security sources say new equipment has now been installed that allows bomb detection to continue even when mobile signals are being jammed. Unfortunately, however, no bomb detection technology is completely foolproof or risk-free.

The risks facing the army in Sinai were highlighted by Deputy Minister of Defence Emad Al-Alfi when he revealed that during the first phase of the Martyr’s Right operation 600 IEDs were defused. The devices, he said, first came to international attention when they were used by Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Al-Alfi went on to praise the success of the army in closing 7,737 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

The recent spate of attacks in north Sinai galvanised the Interior Ministry into changing senior personnel in the peninsula. On 25 January, General Sayed Al-Hibal took over as head of the North Sinai Security Directorate. The decree announcing his appointment also moved General Abdel Muttaleb Al-Desouqi, central security director of Upper Egypt, to the North Sinai Central Security Bureau.

The last week has seen some security successes in Sinai. During a combing operation in the Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid areas security forces killed Atallah Salama Ratima, Sinai Province’s deputy leader and one of the most dangerous terrorist operatives in the peninsula.

Ratima, who was the mastermind behind Sinai Province’s logistical support operation, was killed by gunfire from an Apache helicopter in the Jebel Al-Kharm area of central Sinai. Army spokesmen say 13 other militants were killed in the same operation.

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