Monday, August 13, 2012

Egypt is pouring forces into Sinai but does anyone know for sure what they are actually doing there?


Egypt is pouring forces into Sinai but does anyone know for sure what they are actually doing there?

Egypt: From Israel's perspective in the ongoing war
against the terrorists - a riddle 
A syndicated report from EuroNews headed "Egypt army kills and arrests ‘terrorists’ in Sinai" says Egyptian soldiers have "poured into the region, and claim to have killed 20 people considered ‘terrorists’ during an offensive... New [Moslem Brotherhood] head of state, Mohammed Mursi fired the regional governor and Egypt’s Intelligence Chief on Wednesday, and has vowed to restore stability in the area.

On the other hand, Reuters is reporting under the heading "Little sign of battle in Egypt's Sinai region" that despite the reports that "Egypt poured troops into North Sinai on Thursday in an offensive meant to tackle militants in the Israeli border region", local residents 
were skeptical, saying they had seen no sign of anyone being killed in what they described as a "haphazard" operation. Army commanders said as many as 20 "terrorists" had died in the offensive launched after suspected Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday and drove a stolen armored car into Israel which was then destroyed by Israeli forces. Hundreds of troops and dozens of military vehicles had reached al-Arish, the main administrative center in North Sinai, security sources said on Thursday. Armored vehicles, some equipped with machineguns, could then be seen driving out of al-Arish towards the border settlement of Sheikh Zuwaid - which had been targeted by aircraft on Wednesday. The troops saluted passersby and flashed victory signs, or filmed their departure with video cameras. But residents interviewed later in Shaikh Zuwaid and surrounding villages said they had seen no sign of fighting. In al Toumah, a village surrounded by olive fields, one witness said he saw troops firing in the air. "We thought they were chasing someone, but their arms were directed up and we didn't see who they were fighting with," the witness, who declined to be named, said. "We couldn't find any bodies or signs of battle after they left." [Full story]
The signs of confusion were already there yesterday (Thursday). AFP reported ("Renewed clashes hit Egypt's Sinai: Clashes between armed forces and militants continue in Sinai for the second day running") that 
Police and gunmen clashed Thursday in the Sinai town of El-Arish, Egyptian TV said after authorities vowed to crush a surge in Islamist militancy, although the state news agency MENA denied the report. The state-owned Nile News television said there were clashes outside a police station in the north Sinai town a day after reported air strikes killed 20 militants in a neighbouring village. However, MENA said later that a "security official denied reports that the ... police station in El-Arish came under fire," in an account backed by witnesses who said they did not see or hear any clashes. MENA said that a man driving a unlicensed car had fired several shots in the air on the street housing the police station, without aiming at it.
The idea that the Egyptians are in fact engaging the Sinai terrorists is a popular one here in Israel as well as in Egypt. Here's Al-Ahram analyst Makram Muhammad Ahmad writing in Al-Ahram:
Nobody would disagree that ultimate priority should be given to the issue of bringing back Egypt's security… because in the absence of Egypt's security it is difficult to achieve stability.
And Sharif Riyad in Al-Akhbar
Operation Eagle should extend to destroy all the tunnels leading to the Gaza Strip. It should continue until this whole issue is closed. The entire people stand by their armed forces, supporting and encouraging them.
And Israeli analyst Yossi Beilin, a former Deputy Foreign Minister, in Yisrael Hayom
The military operation Egypt carried out this week was a vital move for both Egypt and Israel, and it is a pity it was not done earlier… The emerging new situation obliges all of us to rethink the demilitarisation as a solution … The real interest of Israel is to give the Egyptian army the possibility of taking over the peninsula and preventing the Bedouins from doing what they like.
On the other hand, Dan Margalit also writing in Yisrael Hayom ("In Sinai, Israel sees a double-edged sword")  has some unconventional takes on the unfolding events and the unanswered questions behind them:
  • Egyptian planes bombing targets in the Sinai? Missiles are again being fired in the Peninsula? For those who fought in this grand but also terrible desert, these reports are accompanied by tough memories. Thirty-nine years ago, Egyptian planes and missiles were attacking IDF soldiers defending the Bar-Lev line.
  • The current Egyptian military's operations in Sinai are welcome, but they also set a precedent. 
  • In the end... there will also be a price tag for the erosion of Egypt's commitment to keeping Sinai demilitarized of large forces. 
  • Israel must remain vigilant that the Egyptian army's latest moves, ordered by Morsi, won’t in the future become a trend whereby decisions such as these are taken unilaterally by Cairo, without consulation with and the agreement of Israel. 
  • There are also disturbing voices in Egypt, where an order was given that Israeli commentators should not be interviewed on media outlets about the bloody incident in Sinai. The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas have claimed that Israel, of course, initiated the attack, the proof of which was that the terrorists succeeded against Egyptian soldiers but failed against the IDF. These claims are ungrounded.
So is this unprecedented Egyptian military campaign a "haphazard operation" or something more serious and professional? Are the victory signs premature or a sign that the battle was won? Does Egypt under a Moslem Brotherhood president stand on the right side of the war to defeat the terrorists? And is Israel reducing the dangers from Sinai or exacerbating them in agreeing to a renewed Egyptian military presence there?