Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing on Saturday effectively trapping 1.7 million Palestinians inside Gaza. The only other exit from the enclave is the Erez border crossing that connects with Israel, which is used primarily by Palestinians who need urgent medical treatment in the Jewish state.
- Hamas: Egyptian military building buffer zone with Gaza
- Egyptian troop column moves into the Sinai
- 30 gunmen hurt in helicopter assault in Sinai
Egyptian officials said that at least nine gunmen and two soldiers were killed in Saturday’s attacks and that the assault on jihadist groups will continue. The crackdown began after former President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was deposed on July 3, and the Egyptian army re-took control of the country. The government operation against terrorists has been stepped up in the past few days.
“The Egyptians seem to be doing what they think is necessary to rein in terrorist and jihadists of all sorts in Sinai,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “Enforcing law and order in Sinai has been a long time coming. Egyptian stability and security is good for Israel but they’re not doing this for us. This is a purely Egyptian interest.”
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
According to Israeli army figures, more than 300 attacks were launched against Egyptian troops in Sinai over the past few weeks. Last month, 25 Egyptian policemen were shot to death execution-style in the Sinai, prompting widespread anger in Cairo.
Israeli military sources say there are hundreds of terrorists in Sinai, most of who belong to two major jihadist groups who are supported by local Bedouin tribes. Some of the gunmen come from Iraq and Yemen and are tied to global jihad and al-Qaeda . While their primary target is the Egyptian military, they are also interested in carrying out attacks against Israel.
Over the past two months, Egyptian soldiers have sealed about 80% of the hundreds of tunnels that have been dug between Egypt and Gaza, having been used to smuggle weapons and drugs, as well as consumer goods, between the two sides.
Sealing the tunnels has put the squeeze on Gazans, who, for instance, now have to pay much more for gasoline imported from Israel instead of having access to Egyptian-subsidized gas. For the jihadists in Sinai, closing the tunnels means shutting-off an important avenue of escape in the event of an attack by the Egyptian army.
"I believe there will be more Takfiri (one of the jihadist groups) attacks in the coming days because the Egyptian troops are attacking indiscriminately, and they kill civilians as well,” Gomaa Sawarka a Bedouin resident a leading figure of the Sawarka tribe in Sinai told The Media Line. “These civilian casualties will be grounds for more retaliation from residents but not necessarily terrorist groups."
Israel has quietly supported the Egyptian military by allowing them to deploy more troops than allowed in the 1979 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, as well as tanks and helicopters which are prohibited according to the agreement. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with Israel.
“Israel and Egypt have a joint interest in the suppression of militant Islamists,” Efraim Karsh, a professor at Israel’s Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “Sinai is an ongoing operation. It’s not going to stop. As long as the army remains in power under the same leadership there will be this cooperation. It doesn’t mean that publicly they won’t come out against Israel, but privately the cooperation will continue.”
That cooperation could even intensify if terrorists launch attacks at Israel. Last month, jihadists launched a rocket at Israel which was intercepted by the Iron-Dome anti-missile system.
“The Egyptian army still has a lot of work to do in Sinai,” Gen. Sameh Saif Elyazal told The Media Line. "I believe coordination with the Israeli armed forces will be needed if the terrorists start attacking Israel from Sinai."
From Israel’s perspective, that cooperation is even more crucial as the region braces for a possible strike by the United States on Syria after it’s apparent use of chemical weapons last month. Both Syria and its ally, Iranian-proxy Hizbullah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, have threatened to hit Israel in retaliation if or when Syria is struck by the US. Israel wants to make sure that Egypt, the largest Arab country, stays out of any regional confrontation.
“The relationship between Israel and Egypt is the cornerstone of stability and peacemaking in the region,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line.
Article by Linda Gradstein
Sherif Elhelwa contributed to this report
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop