To keep the truce with the Islamist terrorist networks in Sinai in place, while avoiding a large-scale military operation to suppress them, Egypt is now releasing dozens of jailed Salafist gunmen in batches every few days, so feeding the Islamists a steady supply of reinforcements.
Cairo is also in negotiation with Bedouin tribal elders to grant a body of 6,000 Al-Qaeda-linked Salafi gunmen the status of an approved, independent militia. Armed with up-to-date Egyptian weapons, this militia is to be charged with responsibility for maintaining security in the peninsula.
This may be a neat way out for Egypt and let the Morsi government off the hook of grappling with the violent Islamist networks infesting Sinai. But it leaves Israel squarely face to face with a whole new terrorist outfit which has the freedom to choose between operating in the service of Al Qaeda or Cairo – or playing both sides.
Israeli security circles on the southern front familiar with the Sinai security situation explain that the Egyptian army’s claim Monday, Sept. 3 that it pulled “another 20 tanks” out of the peninsula, marking the tail end of its putative counter-terror military offensive, was therefore the reverse of welcome news for Israel.
All the same, out of certain diplomatic considerations, Israelis officials are collaborating with the US and Egypt in drawing a veil over this dangerous downturn in security along its southwestern border.
Thursday, Aug. 30 Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: ”The Egyptians must combat terror and if they need to bring extra military strength into Sinai [for this purpose], we should let them.”
As he spoke, Egyptian spokesmen claimed the tanks, illegally deployed in breach of the peace treaty with Israel, were being withdrawn at the end of a “successful military offensive” to root out the terrorists.
This statement, say debkafile’s counter-terror sources, contains at least two untruths: The tanks were falsely presented as backing a fictitious Egyptian operation, just as the Cairo communiqué pretended that large numbers of terrorists were killed and wounded “in action” or detained.
There were no terrorist casualties because the entire operation was made of whole cloth, a Sinai desert mirage.
That the Netanyahu government and defense chiefs went along with this fiction is the real issue.
They have committed Israel to accepting the entry of Egyptian military forces into Sinai for the stated purpose of combating terror – a stipulation the Cairo government under the Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated it has no intention of upholding.
Just the reverse: The Egyptian troops positioned in Sinai are ordered to keep their powder dry and stand by as the terrorist cells of the “Mujaheddin Brigades in the Jerusalem Vicinity” – which is closely allied to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – goes from strength to strength.
Yet some Israeli media have suggested sympathetically that the Egyptian army was forced to slow down its counter-terror operations for lack of intelligence on the armed cells’ whereabouts.
An Israel officer serving in the sector retorted angrily that every Egyptian and Israeli officer serving anywhere in or near Sinai knows exactly where the gunmen are skulking and their training facilities located. “The trouble is that Egyptian officers who go past those places look the other way,” he said.
The only action the Morsi government has taken on the quiet is to place a security buffer strip along the Egyptian-Israeli border off-limits to civilian traffic.
Our military sources report this strip has been dubbed “The American Highway” of Sinai, because its 260 kilometers were paved in secret by US military engineers.
It runs from the MFO peacekeepers’ Mediterranean base at Sheikh Zuweid in northern Sinai down to Taba, providing a safe route for the peacekeepers, most of them members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, between their northern base and their headquarters at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Large sections of the American Highway run parallel to Israel’s Route 12 from Nitzana to Eilat, Israel’s southernmost town.
Egypt no doubt intended this buffer strip to serve additionally for keeping terrorists at a distance from its border with Israel. But IDF observers in that area see very little Egyptian military activity for keeping it sterile and closed to hostile movements.
Once the Salafis are organized in a militia and formally recognized as such by Cairo, it will be that much harder to keep them from breaching the buffer strip abutting the Israeli border.
Courtesy of Debka File