INTO THE FRAY: Sinai – The descent into depravity

Ironically, the case of Sinai, once held up as the crowning vindication of the land-for-peace principle is likely to turn out to be its one of its most tragic and traumatic failures.

Militants detonated a bomb inside a crowded mosque in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday and then sprayed gunfire on panicked worshipers as they fled, killing at least 305 people and wounding at least 128 others. Officials called it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.- New York Times, November 24, 2017.

The Sinai Peninsula with its strategic depth, mineral wealth and economic potential is now deteriorating into a lawless “no-go” region, rapidly falling under the control of the most ruthless extremists on the face of the globe. – INTO THE FRAY: Suicide Nation? August 11, 2011.?

If the Egyptian authorities do not move quickly to crush the extremists and regain control, the Sinai Peninsula could soon become a separate Islamic emirate run by Salafis, Hamas and Al-Qaeda - Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone, August 5, 2011.

In my column last week, dealing with just how fortunate Israel was in not adopting the land-for-peace formula in the Golan, and detailing the deadly dangers that ensued from attempting to apply it elsewhere, I wrote: Sinai [is] now descending into the depravity and brutality of a jihadi-controlled no-man’s land — with no good options on the horizon.?

Gruesome corroboration?

Tragically, almost at the exact time that the column was being posted, the grim prognosis was given gruesome corroboration. Reportedly over three dozen “militants”, attacked a mosque in Northern Sinai, near the town of Bir al-Abed, on the coastal road connecting El-Arish and Port Said. Using explosives and automatic weapons, they cut down hundreds of worshipers including almost 30 children. Most of the attackers appeared to have escaped.

Its dreadful dimensions aside, such gory incidents as this are is not uncommon in Sinai. Indeed, it is “merely” yet another link in a chain of ongoing murderous assaults by jihadi groups against Egyptian forces stationed in the peninsula, dating back over half-a-decade, to the period immediately following the end of the Mubarak-era (from mid-2011). However, there has been a discernable uptick in attacks since the 2013 ousting of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim-Brotherhood affiliated government by a military coup, headed by incumbent president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum

There is —or at least, there should be—little surprise at the advent of lawlessness and violent insurgency in one form or other in Sinai.

After all, following the evacuation of the peninsula by the IDF under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, strict conditions for its demilitarization were imposed. For Israel, this was the central pillar of the entire peace accord and a critical element in its overall security.

However, these conditions seriously curtailed Cairo’s ability to enforce law and order in a relatively “undomesticated” region, where dutiful respect for central authority, never mind meticulous observance of its laws, were hardly the hallmarks of the indigenous inhabitants’ ways and mores.?

Accordingly, with Egypt’s emaciated capacity to assert control, the largely nomadic gangs, clans, and tribes that comprise much of the population, were left relatively unfettered to pursue lawless activities, which included gun-running, drug-smuggling, human trafficking, abduction and extortion. There have even been horrific reports of rape, beheadings and trafficking of organs taken from African kidnap victims, trying to reach Israel.

With the ascendancy of radical Islam across much of the Mid-East, this fundamentalist doctrine found fertile ground among the fractious Bedouin tribes of Sinai, with their contentious relations with the regime in Cairo—particularly after the removal of the largely likeminded Morsi by the military in 2013. Indeed, they showed an increasing affinity for the most extremist jihadi ideology. Thus, one of the most active jihadi groups, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) was previously an al-Qaeda affiliate but in late 2014, pledged its allegiance to ISIS, changing its name to Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province of the Islamic State).

Demilitarization endangered

Significantly, the reverses suffered by ISIS in Syria and Iraq have increased the attractiveness of Sinai as a destination for many racialized fighters looking for alternative methods to wage Jihad. Indeed, by some reports, today they constitute up to 80% of the Sinai Province’s fighting force. This not only poses an increasing challenge for the Egyptian regime, but for Israel it imperils the major component of its peace treaty with Egypt – the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula.?

For clearly, the strict enforcement of demilitarization leaves Egypt incapable of imposing law and order. According, it is only if Egypt is allowed to breach the conditions of such demilitarization that it can acquire the ability to contend with the increasing challenge of lawlessness and rejection of government’s authority.

And indeed, in the past Egypt has repeatedly asked Israel to consent to it deploying troops that exceed the stipulations of the peace treaty—including the introduction of tanks, helicopters and fighter planes. As a rule, Israel has agreed to such requests—and has even refrained from responding when increased deployments have been made without its prior approval. ??

But such largesse could be—indeed is more likely than not to be—a dangerously slippery slope—for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as Yoram Meital of Ben Gurion University points out, even if Egypt is successful in quelling the jihadi resistance, there is a distinct danger that it will not subsequently remove the excess forces. He warns: “… the Egyptian leadership would find it difficult to order the evacuation of its forces from the Sinai once the operation is over. Egyptian public opinion would no doubt demand that the troops remain in the Sinai, as a testimony to Egypt's control over its entire sovereign territory.”?

And indeed it well might!?

Creeping remilitarization of Sinai...

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