The Sinai Quandary

Another attack launched from the Sinai once again pushes the issue of Israel’s southern border to the forefront of our concerns. The death of Corporal Netanel Yahalomi and the wounding of his comrade in arms raises the spectre of the jihadi Bedouin haunting us for some time to come. They respect no nationality, neither Egyptian, Israeli nor international observers and are proving especially daring. Whereas a year ago they were content with blowing up the oil pipeline connecting Egypt with Israel they are now attacking just about everyone in sight.

The activity of these Jihadis has ensured that tourism to the once popular diving destinations of Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab has dropped down to nothing, as have the numbers of gamblers jumping over from Eilat to Taba to indulge their vice in the casinos. They have also ensured that the Egyptian army has incurred heavy losses attempting to root them out. That is without going into the allegations of rape, slavery and organ smuggling that CNN brought to the attention of the world a year ago.

Now amidst whispers of chemical weapons being used in the desert against these Bedouin tribes we find that the problem just won’t go away. But perhaps there is also an element of Egypt not quite wanting them to go away. Non state actors have proven to be incredibly useful to heads of state who are looking to attack Israel without having to pay the price for their proxy’s actions. Hezbollah is the perfect case in point but this is something that has been going on since Egyptian military intelligence sent gangs out of Gaza in the 1950s, whereas then Israel held Egypt to account and later Jordan, now, with a peace treaty to preserve, it is far less likely to do so.

With a Muslim Brotherhood President in charge of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas in charge of Gaza it is highly unlikely that we are going to have a quiet South any time soon. The Bedouin may well have caused significant embarrassment to Morsi when they killed 16 of his men but they also gave him the opportunity to clean house and place his own loyalists at the head of the Egyptian army. I have no doubt that he was happy to punish the Bedouin for the attack but to wipe them out completely? Well that may be a step too far.

A lawless Sinai provides Morsi with an excellent excuse to keep more troops in the area than are mandated in the Camp David Treaty, the attack on international monitors the perfect example of what could happen if he removes them too soon. The build up of Egyptian forces in the area may be something that we want in the short term but it could come back to haunt us.

This new regime is still an unknown quantity, the riots that swept across the Muslim world may have been sparked by a Youtube video but that video was uploaded in June and had been safely relegated to the backwaters of Youtube anonymity until it was run on Egyptian television. Questions are being asked in the USA about precisely what it is that the United States is getting for the billions of dollars of aid pouring into the country and even President Obama refused to refer to Egypt as an ally when asked directly. This is a far cry from the speech he made in Cairo after his election.

Israeli leaders are not known for their patience and the more attacks that come out of the Sinai the more Israel is going to feel the need to take preventative steps to secure the South. Perhaps Morsi does have a sinister plan for the Sinai and continued attacks on Israel, perhaps he simply isn’t strong enough to enforce quiet there but the harsh reality is if he doesn’t get his territory under control soon Israel may well feel the need to do it for him and that could be catastrophic for all concerned.

About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada