According to official assessments, members of al-Qaeda and other groups affiliated with Global Jihad exploited the security vacuum in Sinai that followed the withdrawal of some police forces from the area. Egypt recently accused Sinai terror groups of attacking police patrols and blowing up the gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan.
Some of the attacks saw the participation of hundreds of masked gunmen carrying grenade launchers and automatic rifles. In an incident in El-Arish two weeks ago, the gunmen distributed leaflets calling for the application of Islamic law across the Sinai.
In response to the attacks, Egypt decided over the weekend to reinforce its troops in the northern Sinai. Soldiers in armored vehicles and commando forces were deployed in the region, near El-Arish. More than two weeks ago, gunmen killed a police officer and four civilian in the same area. Troops were also deployed elsewhere in the central Sinai region.
Moreover, in recent months Egypt’s army lost its hold on parts of the Sinai after local Bedouins took over main roads in the framework of the uprising against Mubarak’s regime.
Against the backdrop of the Sinai chaos, the Israeli Foreign Ministry repeatedly warned Israelis in recent years – and more so in recent months – against traveling to the Sinai, for fear of terror attacks and abductions.
During his time in power, the ousted Egyptian president attached great importance to maintaining the security situation in the Sinai region, yet even then his forces had trouble enforcing their control and imposing law and order in the peninsula. This was evidenced by the attacks that originated in the area and numerous cases of smuggling of foreign workers, drugs and arms, mostly to the Gaza Strip.
However, upon Mubarak’s fall, the situation in the peninsula deteriorated and reached a state of reckless abandon. The current military rule invests most of its efforts in domestic Egyptian affairs and barely deals with the Sinai – certainly not with the phenomena of arms and funds smuggling to the Gaza Strip. Yet Israel is the one to pay a grave price, as we saw Thursday in the terror offensive near Eilat.
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