Israel delivered a threatening message to Egypt, according to which it would take action against militants in the Sinai if Cairo did not take responsibility and secure the countries' shared border, Egyptian officials indicated on Saturday.
Hints of possible Israeli intervention in Sinai could intensify tension between the Bedouin and the Egyptian government, as well as put the fate of the Camp David agreements at risk.
The reported message was transferred days after Sinai militants fired a volley of Grad-type Katyusha rockets into a residential area of the southern Israeli city of Eilat, and a little over a month since militants attacked a gas pipeline in the desert Peninsula that transports fuel to neighboring Israel and Jordan for the 12th time.
According to Egyptian officials, the fall of a grad rocket in Eilat and Egypt’s denial that it was fired from the Sinai Peninsula has created new tensions between Israel and Egypt, with Israel sending a resolute “and even threatening” message to the Egyptian Military Council regarding the council’s responsibility for events occurring in the Sinai.
The warning message, sources said, included hints that Israel might be forced into taking action in the Sinai, if attacks against Israeli targets continue to originate from within the peninsula.
Coupled with Egyptian media reports of Israeli forces massing close to the Egyptian border, the reported warning led to negative reactions from within the Egyptian public.
In an editorial, Halad Salah, editor of the newspaper Youm al Sabbah, warned Israel against using the “false” excuse of attacks from Sinai in order to try and create a rift among the Egyptian Public.
According to Salah, Israel is claiming that it now faces security threats originating from within Egypt, and that the situation in Egypt, specifically the rise of the Islamists “is the main threat, as reported by Israeli newspapers, under the influence of the Shin Bet and the Mossad.” If Israel continues to blame the Egyptians, it will soon discover that all Egyptians are united against it.
However, despite public backlash, the Egyptian Supreme Military Council is aware of its ineptitude in the Sinai, especially after Bedouin militias “conquered” two police stations in El-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, and are not allowing Egyptian forces to monitor the trade taking place through tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip.
In response, Egypt began sending reinforcements to natural gas facilities and El-Arish last week. General Salach Al Masri, responsible for the safety of northern Sinai, reported Egyptian intent to clear the Sinai of terrorist activity.
Al Masri reported last week that an initial cadre of 50 police officers and dozens of armored vehicles entered the Sinai, with a mission to retake the police stations, and patrol the natural gas pipeline.
On Saturday, Al Masri told the website “el- masrawy,” that a decision was made to increase the security presence in northern Sinai, and that an additional force of 150 police officers and additional armored vehicles will be dispatched to the area surrounding El-Arish and Rafiah.
These additional forces will patrol the length of the natural gas pipeline, and attempt to thwart smuggling of weapons through the tunnels.
This is not the first time that Egypt has sent reinforcements to Sinai. Last November, Al Masri declared that his forces succeeded in arresting those responsible for bombing the natural gas pipeline. A short time later, however, the pipeline was bombed again, and Bedouin militias took control of roads, and Egyptian police guard towers.
The desert peninsula has become a gigantic weapons storage facility, the contents of which are available to anyone willing to pay the Bedouin a reasonable price.
Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri reported this month that at least 10 million illegal weapons, including heavy machine guns, submachine guns, rocket launchers and mortars have been smuggled into Egypt from Libya and Sudan since the beginning of the revolution. Some weapons are said to have been smuggled in from Israel as well.
Security officials have reported to the Egyptian media that weapons caches are confiscated on a daily basis, and that it seems today that “every Egyptian family is in possession of a weapon.” Large quantities of weapons have made it into the Sinai as well, and are being sold into Gaza or to organizations active within the Sinai.
In the past, Haaretz has reported that the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida built a munitions base in the Sinai, meant to serve its forces in Gaza while radical organizations also found cover at sites in central Sinai that the Egyptian military was unable to breach.
The Egyptian government is aware of the fact that any military endeavor in Sinai will fail without cooperation from the Bedouin tribes. However, that cooperation would require a very substantial financial investment, including the creation of water and electric systems, the building of schools, and the creation of jobs in an area where unemployment rates reach 90%.
Since Mubarak was removed from office and the creation of the civil government, the Bedouin, numbering around 360,000, have heard numerous promises of government intent to improve their situation.
Despite the fact that meetings have been held with the heads of the tribes, no significant changes have come. Without these changes, the Bedouin will continue to be forced to rely on smuggling and trade with terrorist organizations in order to survive.
The tensions between the Egyptian government and the Bedouin have deteriorated far beyond the relations between the regime and its citizens. It is threatening the delicate relations between Israel and Egypt, just as the Supreme Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood, set to control the country’s future, are declaring their devotion to the Camp David Accords.
A scenario in which Israel would act on its own in the Sinai could turn the cooperation between the Bedouin and the terrorist organizations and the tension between the Bedouin and the Egyptian government into a strategic threat, capable of destroying the peace agreement for which all are worried.
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