Sinai raid could be start of a new bloody chapter

 
Egyptian soldiers carry the coffins of their comrades killed in an attack in Sinai during their funeral in Cairo on August 7, 2012. An attack in the Sinai peninsula on Sunday left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead

For many months Egyptian government control of the Sinai Peninsula has been tenuous at best.

The dangers of allowing ungoverned space, where militant groups have launched attacks on neighbouring Israel, ought to have been obvious to anybody in Cairo, but it was only the killing of 16 of their border guards on Sunday that finally prompted action.

The inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula, notably some of its Bedouin tribes, are a heavily armed force that, it would seem, the military rulers of Egypt who had recently stood down were reluctant to challenge.

Now, in one of those bitter paradoxes of power in the Middle East, it has fallen to Mohammed Morsi, the recently elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood to clamp down on militants who claim Islamic legitimacy for their attacks.

It might be argued that Mr Morsi is the ideal man to take these wayward tribes in hand - since he has both a democratic mandate and some degree of backing from Egypt's religious establishment.

There is also a good deal of cynicism in Cairo about the tribes' professed religious motivations, since they are also widely believed to be involved in smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people.

Even so, Tuesday's raid on Touma, close to the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean Sea, may indicate the opening of a bloody new chapter for Sinai. The raid, in which helicopters fired missiles into the township, had an aspect of communal punishment about it, or reprisal for Sunday's loss of border guards.

Inevitably there will be some who want revenge against the security forces. Since the armed bands on the peninsula are thought to possess hundreds of light weapons, as well as technicals (pick-up trucks mounting heavy machine guns), and multiple rocket launchers they have considerable ability to cause trouble.

The bombing of several hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005 claimed 84 lives was blamed by security officials on elements within the same Bedouin tribes, claiming ties with al-Qaeda.

It underlines the degree to which the country's Red Sea tourist industry is vulnerable to reprisals.

More recently the Israelis have accused the same groups of several deadly attacks along their border with Egypt. These created great tension in an area that had been peaceful for decades, and prompted the Israelis to start building a barrier through the desert in an attempt to prevent more infiltration.

Today the Israelis have reacted with satisfaction to the new security crackdown, and have given their agreement to military reinforcements going into Sinai (as it required under the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries that sought to de-militarise the peninsula).

Mr Morsi meanwhile faces the accusation that has been used in the past against those who have taken similar measures, of acting as Israel's policeman.

The shooting of so many Egyptian soldiers at the weekend has allowed the president to present this action as a response to a challenge to national authority rather than an attack on Israel.

But the scope both for serious escalation in this violence and for political difficulties for the new president will make the Sinai Peninsula a key place to watch in coming months.

 
Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

     
    #9 I wonder if President Morsy was consulted before the Muslim Brotherhood blamed Mossad. If not, why not?

    http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/world/middle-east/egypt-fires-intelligence-chief-over-sinai-attack/article_b77d4edd-5e34-59d8-bedb-d6ca9ed3bfc4.html

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

     
    BluesBerry,

    Yeah, let's ignore the fact that Israel warned Egypt in advance, a warning they chose to ignore.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4265885,00.html

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    Sinai's "false flag". Militants are easily recruited; Al Qaeda is used strategically. If responsible for Sunday's attack, similar attacks could happen any time.
    Cui bono?
    Sunday's attack benefits Israel & US. In response to Sunday's attack, Egypt began closing tunnels Gazans use for food, fuel, & vital supplies. Siege got harder.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    Second personnel carrier exploded at Kerem Shalom border terminal, connecting Israel, Gaza & Egypt. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: IDF forces, under the command of Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, & on orders of Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, showed alertness, sharpness & purposefulness = prevented a terror attack that could have caused many casualties.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, Palestine's legitimately elected PM, also blames Israel for Sunday's incident. It was an attack to embarrass Egypt's leadership & create new problems at the border. Why? To ruin efforts to end Gaza's siege. He added that no Palestinian wants to kill anybody in Egypt. Any attack against Egypt's security is also against the security of Palestinians.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    The more I think on this, the more it seems like "false flag". America & Israel use them strategically. Israel benefits from Sunday's incident. Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed in Sinai. Egypt's (MB) blamed Mossad. MB Statement on Unprovoked Aggression Against Rafah Border-Guards, said: Yesterday, a group of criminals & terrorists attacked an Egyptian security checkpoint in Rafah.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Egypt has sent forces, sweeping Sinai with helicopter gunships to capture militants who were not killed. Morsi addressed nation: he has given orders to security forces to move swiftly in capturing those behind this attack…Those behind attack are to pay high price - as well as those who have been cooperating with attackers.
    Is Morsi good as his word? If not, watch out.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Sinai Peninsula = home of @ 360,000 people, shares a border with Israel. Distant from Egypt's administration, security there is usually lax = potential for increased insurgencies. Sinai has been relatively stable since 1979. But following the Egyptian revolution, insurgency movements have increased, spilling into Israel.
    What next? That's the question.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Recent ascension of Islamist candidate, Muslim Brotherhood Member Mohamed Morsi, to Egypt's top post raises questions as to whether Egypt will maintain its alliance with Israel & United States. Morsi has adopted a moderate tone, but he has also strengthened his country's ties to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. In short, Morsi walks a very fine line.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    One of worst incidents in Sinai = demonstrates increasingly tenuous relationship between Israel & Egypt. Camp David Accords = Egypt recognize Israel, in return GET SINAI. Sinai is symbol - keystone of uneasy peace agreement. (Camp David Accords saw Sadat & Begin both win 1978 Nobel Peace Prize). If Accords fail...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    So it's okay for democracies to use helicopters to fire missiles into towns, but not for dictatorships? One is safeguarding integrity and the other is repression? At the moment there is a difference of scale, but the Syrian conflict started small too.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Isn't it a bit rash and early to compare this Sinai skirmish to the full scale slaughter of the Syrian people by the Assad regime ? Egypt is starting on the hard road of democratic reform and has to safeguard its integrity and safety.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    Should we now atart calling for UN sanctions against Egypt in the same way as we are for Syria? Militants/Rebels Government/Regime Security crackdown/Repression. Swap the wording around as you want, it's basically the same thing. Except we don't like that nasty Mr Assad.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    Some of the Bedouin in Sinai are responsible for kidnapping hundreds of Eritreans some from UN refugee camps in Sudan. These are then ransomed back to their families, under torture, for up to $50,000 per person. There are estimated to be hundreds of mostly Eritreans in the hands of the Bedouin in Sinai right now. Those captured and arrested are in the police stations of Al Arish, even this one.

 

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