Israel Seminars - Ronny Simon - The Sinai Peninsula – Egypt's battle ground.
Israel, 2016–01–22

Following the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord (1979), Israel had pulled its forces out of the Sinai Peninsula and withdrew back to the 1967 borders. Sinai was once again under Egyptian sovereignty.
Sinai, covers an area of some 23 thousand sq. mi, is mostly a mountainous desert. Most of its inhabitants are Bedouins (Nomadic tribes) that were discriminated by the Egyptian authorities for decades. Egypt, gave most of its attention to develop tourism along the beautiful beaches and diving resorts of the Peninsula. The rest of the area and its people were totally ignored. Many of the local Bedouins had worked in the tourist industry, however in the low paying jobs. Most resources were exploited by foreigners and Egyptians from Egypt proper. Egypt had limited its presence and maintaining low and order in southern Sinai were the strategic straights of Sharm al Sheik are and the northern eastern part, the area that borders with the Gaza Strip. The rest of Sinai became a no man's land.

For several decades the Egyptian regime ignored the actions of the Bedouins. The Bedouins were involved, as they are today, in human trafficking, smuggling drugs and weapons. All of those activities were moving to one direction, the Gaza Strip and the Israeli border. Gradually, groups of terrorists made their way into the Sinai Peninsula as well. It was easy to access as the Egyptians didn't monitor the long cost of Sinai and paid no attention to what was building in their back yard. Those groups recruited the locals to the Muslim agenda. The Bedouins were never too connected to radical Islam and the only god they served was money. There is no shortage in resources in world terror and the finances came as they are today from Qatar, Saudi-Arabia Iran etc, were building Muslim radical power, now supported by the Bedouins all over Sinai.
With the collapse of Libya, a huge amount of weapons made its way through Egypt, and Sinai into the Gaza Strip. Since the regime in Egypt was Muslim brotherhood, it was done with their blessing. The weapons were sent through tunnels from the Egyptian side into the Gaza Strip to be used against Israel.

For a while in seemed that the radical Muslim elements in the area – the Egyptian regime, Hamas in Gaza and the other radical Muslim tribes in Sinai, had the same agenda - to intensify the struggle against Israel.
It was done openly, without trying to hide their intention. The Israeli side, with much frustration, could only watch and monitor what was coming into Gaza without taking any action to stop the flow of weapons. Any action that Israel was to take would violet Egyptian sovereign territory and it was more important to Israel to keep the peace with Egypt than attacking the convoys carrying means of war into Gaza.

The taking over of Egypt by a more secular military regime under A Sisi, was a game changer in the region. The Bedouin tribes and the other radical Muslims in Sinai had targeted the new regime in Egypt as a prime enemy. Now, well equipped and armed to their teeth, they had launched a full scale guerilla war against Egypt itself. This war is not limited to the Sinai Peninsula and attacks in Cairo and other Egyptian cities become very common.
It took the Egyptian regime only a short time to come to the realization that radical Islam is a threat to the very survival of the current regime. Since Sinai is the haven for those groups, a large scale military operation to up root them from Sinai was a necessity.

In order to operate effectively in Sinai, the Egyptians had to have Israel's consent. By the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Egypt was limited with the kinds of weapons and the number of troops they were permitted to deploy in Sinai.
With Israel's consent the Egyptians had sent into Sinai a whole armored division, Helicopter gunships etc. That was nearly two years ago. If the Egyptians hoped that this operation will be a quick and easy one they were deeply surprised. The loses of the Egyptian army are in the hundreds and those of the terrorists in the thousands. However, it looks like it will take a long time, if at all before the Egyptian regime will claim victory over the Jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula. The heavier loses the Islamic State will suffer in Syria and Iraq, the more efforts they will dedicate to establish their presence in Libya, Tunisia and in the Sinai. As for now, the main effort of the Jihadists is the Egyptian regime; however, these weapons could be easily used against Israel as well. Sinai will be the future battlefield between the Jihadists and Israel. It will be much easier for those groups to operate against Israel from Sinai where the Israeli retaliation will be more careful and limited. The two countries, Israel and Egypt cooperate, mainly with intelligence to fight the terrorists in Sinai, but the national Egyptian sentiment which is extremely anti-Israeli, will never accept an open military cooperation between the two countries.
The next concern that will be shared by the whole world should be protecting the Suez Canal on the western side of Sinai. Fighting in the Sinai, a fight limited in space and troops is one thing. A terror threat on the Suez Canal, a corner stone of world trade is a threat that will affect the whole world.      

The articles in this section are reflecting the Israeli point of view regarding local and regional events.
I'm not a state official and I have no access to inside information. The articles and the opinions I'm expressing are mine alone and are based on observing and knowing the region and country for many years.

The Sinai Peninsula – Egypt's battle ground