The IDF has increased its intelligence-gathering efforts over the last couple of months on the Islamic State's Sinai branch.
Military Intelligence has added ‘heavy’ and classified operative layers to its efforts to increase and improve the collection and monitoring of Islamic State’s Sinai Province, which accuses Israel of supporting and assisting the Egyptian army in its war against its militants - sufficient grounds for them to target the IDF.
In the past year, since the terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula abandoned al-Qaeda and swore allegiance to Islamic State, the Sinai Province has become not only the most effective ISIS branch in the Middle East, but also one of its most compartmentalized.
The organization, which has thousands of armed militants - most of them locals - has recently started enjoying millions of dollars in aid from abroad and is able to carry out daily attacks against the Egyptian army. It is based and trains on a high level of secrecy, which makes it difficult for intelligence agencies to even single out its leader.
Recently, ISIS-Sinai Province has posted videos in which it calls for carrying out attacks against Israeli targets. The threat has not been translated into any concrete warnings, but Military Intelligence is working under the assumption that ISIS’s attack will take place without intelligence warning, and even if there is a warning, it will only come a short time before the attack.
Most of the IDF and Shin Bet’s monitoring of the Sinai is technological, due to the difficulty of using human agents to penetrate deep into the Jihadist groups. These groups are operating in a vast area of about 25 to 30 thousand square kilometers in the heart of the peninsula, an area that is largely mountainous with topographical conditions that create difficulties in photographing or tracking Islamic State’s trainings, headquarters and weapons warehouses.
Israel has admitted publicly only once to having helped the Egyptian Army in the Sinai Peninsula, when it sent a surveillance aircraft to try and locate the remains of the Russian plane that crashed on its way from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg.
Despite its focus on terror in the West Bank, and the fence that was completed last year along the Sinai border, the IDF has not lowered its guard along the 220 kilometer border from Kerem Shalom to Eilat: special ops forces remain on alert alongside regular army battalions. Three weeks ago, a surprise drill took place in the Southern Command to practice scenarios of large-scale attacks on Eilat and Nitzana.
In recent months, the Caracal Battalion has been training in built-up areas, practicing scenarios of ISIS attacks on one of the border villages.
On the Syrian border, the sole Islamic State branch is less significant than that of its Sinai equivalent. The Shuhada al-Yarmuq, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, have only tens or hundreds of militants. They have been busy over the past year fighting Jabhat al-Nusra which is affiliated with al Qaeda, considered the most significant jihadist group in the Syrian Golan.