New Hot Spot on Israel's Southern Border: Religious Fervor Increases in Egypt
by Sarah Ann Haves
As the world focuses on Iran’s race towards nuclear capability, Israel is turning its attention to the capabilities of Iran’s proxies in the Middle East Hezbollah in Lebanon; Syria; Hamas in Gaza; and, newly developed Islamic terrorist cells operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Reportedly, there are now up to 400 Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups with full reign in the Sinai. This has developed since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime ended and Egyptian authorities loosened their grip on the area. Some terrorist groups are trying to develop an Islamic zone in the Sinai.
In mid-November 2011, Israel’s Chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz briefed the Israeli Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about the terrorist build-up in the south. He mentioned that, since the August 2011 terrorist attack on Israel’s southern city of Eilat, the IDF has changed its tactics. Israeli defense officials have added a brigade headquarters near Israel’s border with Egypt, and are trying to improve intelligence capabilities in the Sinai, which is proving difficult.
Gantz commented that the Sinai had become an area of global jihad, and a wide terrorist infrastructure is developing there, encouraged by radical groups in Gaza.
The attack on Eilat was considered a cooperative effort between operatives of the Palestinian Popular Resistance committees, and Salafist Islamists in Egypt. The attack bore the trademarks of Al Qaeda. In the meantime, a new terror group has developed in Egypt, this year, called al-Mujahedeen al-Takhfirin. It is responsible for the continued attacks on the gas pipeline that extends from Egypt into Israel and Jordan. This group also played a major role in the August 2011 attack on Eilat. The organization’s terrorist activities indicate that forces hostile to Israel are emerging during the current regional instability.
It is assumed by Israeli officials that the increase in global jihadist activities will continue where governments and leaders are uprooted; where there is a vacuum of central control in various countries in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, cooperation is expected to continue between Gaza and Sinai terrorist groups associated with Al Qaeda and Salafist operatives.
In addition, Bedouin gangs have become increasingly hostile, contributing to instability on Israel’s southern border. On November 23, 2011, Israeli troops caught Bedouin smugglers attempting to infiltrate from the Sinai. A firefight erupted between IDF troops and the smugglers. Another group of Bedouins entered into a second firefight, this time with Egyptian security forces on the Egyptian side of the border. The two incidents occurred 400 meters apart.
While terrorists work together in an effort to breach Israel’s southern border, Hamas continues to smuggle anti-tank missiles into tunnels under the Philadelphia Corridor, which is a long porous area along Israel’s border with Egypt.
A majority of the Egyptian population... has called for an end to the peace treaty.
Ties between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza remain strong. Salafist Islamists, along with the Brotherhood, are opposed to Israel’s existence, and are considered a greater threat to Israel than the former Mubarak regime. These two Sunni-dominated Islamic groups do not want to see the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt continue, and they would consider a war with Israel in the future. A majority of the Egyptian population, while not currently expressing a desire for war with Israel, has called for an end to the peace treaty between both nations.
Recently, an American official met with the Muslim Brotherhood and claimed the U.S. would be willing to work with the group as it gained power in Egypt. This has concerned pro-Israel supporters who do not want to see the Brotherhood have greater influence in Egypt or in the rest of the region.
Salafist Islamists in Egypt have called for a complete commitment to Shari’a Law, urging Egypt’s population to consider strict adherence to Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood has also mentioned Shari’a Law, but is not considered as forceful in its view of how it should be enforced in Egyptian society.
The growing presence of Salafists, who are considered purists of Islam and intolerant of those who do not follow Islamic law, has been a worrying development for Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. The Copts make up a tenth of Egypt’s 80 million people. The Salafists, reportedly, want Egyptian women to wear the hijab, and have threatened to exclude them and Christians from top executive posts in Egypt. The Copts have already been persecuted by jihadist groups operating in Egypt during Mubarak’s reign. They fear that this persecution of their communities will only increase as the new Egyptian government forms.
Concerned about instability in Egypt, and a strengthening of Islamic rule in that nation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke, recently, about Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. He said it was in the best interest of both countries for the treaty to be maintained. He also explained that since 1979, the peace treaty has ensured free access to the Suez Canal for the world’s sea commerce.
The fact that Netanyahu continues to express his desire for Egypt to maintain peaceful relations with Israel shows just how concerned the Israeli government is about the influence of radical Islam on its southern border. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of Israel’s Knesset known for his close ties with the former Mubarak regime, alluded recently to the possibility of a future confrontation between Israel and Egypt.
...any conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza could bring Egypt into the equation.
Egypt could become the first among moderate Arab states to succumb to the rule of Islamic law and lead other nations to follow suit.
Analysts believe that any conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza could bring Egypt into the equation. Furthermore, the IDF would be focusing its troop movements on its southern border, which means there would be fewer resources available to deal with Hezbollah and Syria in the north. It also means there would be fewer soldiers available to crackdown on Palestinian terrorists emanating from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). The stretching of Israel’s defense forces might entice Iran to start an indirect war with Israel through Tehran’s proxies.
While Israel is pushing the United States, Europe, and Gulf nations to form a strong coalition against Iran, the Jewish state is also looking at the hot spot on its southern border. Officials in Jerusalem are hoping that there won’t be a conflict that keeps Israeli forces occupied in the south, while Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Syria, builds up their missile and chemical arsenals. The IDF has its hands full preparing for the possibility of a conflict on both borders. And, Israeli leaders are carefully watching the progression towards Iranian nuclear capability while Tehran’s leaders continue to threaten Israel’s very existence.
“Plead my cause, O Lord, with those who strive with me; fight against those who fight against me.” Psalm 35:1
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.
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