Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

At loggerheads

Amirah Ibrahim sifts through evidence of a growing rift between the military on one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas on the other

Al-Ahram Weekly

Press reports accusing three senior Hamas figures of planning the murder of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Rafah last August have cast a spotlight on the increasingly tense triangle between Hamas, the government of President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian army.
The soldiers were slaughtered while breaking their fast during Ramadan in one of the bloodiest attacks against the Egyptian army in decades. The military responded with a wide-ranging operation against militants based in Sinai. Investigations into the attack, though, remain secret, and the questions posed by an outraged public have yet to be answered.
An already tense situation was further inflamed late last week when seven Hamas members were deported to the Gaza Strip after being detained at Cairo airport following their arrival from Syria. Security reports allege the seven Palestinians were carrying maps of Egyptian military sites.
Earlier this week Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal paid a short visit to the office of the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, purportedly to discuss political cooperation. Hours later the seven Palestinians were allowed to leave Egypt despite the objections of military intelligence officers according to a military source who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly. The source refused to confirm whether or not the president’s office ordered their release.  
On Sunday military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali said the army had prevented an attempt to smuggle cloth from which army uniforms are made into Gaza.
The incident fed suspicions over the nature of the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The Third Field Army announced it was immediately replacing its uniforms to prevent militants from acquiring fake army clothing.
Military expert and retired General Sameh Seif Al-Yazal says the incident is “a declaration of war” against the Egyptian people and army.
“It is the kind of betrayal common in Gaza where thousands of spies and agents operate. Now Hamas is seeking to destroy the image of the Egyptian army in the eyes of the public,” charges Seif Al-Yazal.
Seif Al-Yazal posits a scenario in which militants dressed in military uniform would seek to discredit the army by launching attacks against civilians. “This aim is to create the illusion that there are rogue units and that the army is split. They are seeking to undermine the trust between the people and the army in a manner similar to what happened under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The slogan “the people and army are one hand” clearly disturbed many parties and interrupted their plans to control Egypt.
Military expert Hossam Sweilam believes such scheming is typical of the mindset of underground groups.
“We cannot ignore the suspicious silence by both the presidency and the government on comments made by Hamas officials in Gaza and while meeting Badie,” he says.
According to a Muslim Brotherhood statement, Mashaal assured Badie that “Hamas was working in cooperation with both the presidency and intelligence bodies to preserve the safety and security of Egypt and the Egyptian people.” The comment did not evoke any official protest against intervention into Egypt’s affairs.
Hamas, says Sweilam, is being encouraged by the Muslim Brotherhood to position itself as a key player in the decision-making process as it relates to border policy.
“This is very serious. It aims to portray the Egyptian army as incapable of securing Sinai. Securing and defending Egypt’s borders has never been the responsibility of non-Egyptians.”
Sweilam warns that the enormous pressure troops in Sinai are working under is being compounded by the relaxed attitude of the presidency which he accuses of supporting Jihadi groups in the peninsula. “When we factor in cooperation at the ideological level between Al-Qassam Brigades, which controls many cross border tunnels, and the Muslim Brotherhood, we can almost predict that the already tense situation in Sinai will explode.”
As the military’s anti-terrorist operations in Sinai expanded to include the flooding of tunnels, so Hamas’s rhetoric against the Egyptian army was ratcheted up. According to Seif Al-Yazal, the growth of tensions reflects the success of military operations in the peninsula. 
“Angered by the success of military operations Hamas leaders began to accuse ex-army commanders of orchestrating the Rafah massacre, mistakenly believing such accusations would undermine the loyalty of troops,” says Seif Al-Yazal.
Seif Al-Yazal explained that the operation Sinai had been expanded, flooding the tunnels with sea waters, causing them to collapse. “For seven years now senior Hamas officials have amassed huge fortunes by smuggling subsidised Egyptian fuel and other commodities into Gaza, as well as allowing the passage of weapons and militants. Now the army is closing the tunnels, threatening the lucrative trade by which Hamas leaders lined their own pockets.”
It is no coincidence, he says, that as soon as the tunnels began to be flooded — in recent weeks some 220 tunnels out of an estimated 800 tunnels have been shut down — the Muslim Brotherhood began planting rumours that Defence Minister General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was about to be dismissed. Neither the presidency nor the government dismissed the rumours. Later Hamas spokesmen began accusing senior officers in Sinai of profiteering from the tunnels.
The Egyptian army, adds Seif Al-Yazal, has long been concerned about a possible overlap between Hamas and Islamist militant groups operating in Sinai. Yet it is an issue on which both the presidency and intelligence services remain resolutely tight-lipped. 
“The president dismissed the head of intelligence and assigned a new boss who has yet to address growing suspicions,” points out retired General Mahmoud Khalaf, a military consultant at the Nasser Military Academy.
“We have at least partial confirmation that Egyptian intelligence delivered a report to Hamas including a request to question some Hamas members. The request was declined,” says Khalaf.
Intelligence sources say that Hamas ambitions in Sinai have expanded beyond the illegal cross border trade and now include plans to invest in lucrative projects in the peninsula in partnership with Brotherhood leaders.
“Joint venture companies are being quietly established. They will pave the way for a free zone in Sinai with Hamas and Gaza dominating development projects in the peninsula,” charges Khalaf.
Intelligence reports are partly based on complaints made by Sinai Bedouins who maintain strong ties with security bodies and monitor Hamas activity on their lands.
General Adel Al-Morsi, former head of the Military Judicial Authority, notes that while “available evidence has not revealed who killed the soldiers in the Rafah attack” investigations have been hampered by “a lack of security reports”.
“The database which held information on militant groups in Sinai,” accuses Al-Morsi, “was deliberately scrapped, though the files the military did manage to seize underlined Hamas involvement in attacks on police units and facilities in Sinai.”

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