A Long Hot Summer on Israel's Southern Border
An announcement by Egypt's election commission, concerning who won the most votes in the recent presidential election, has been delayed. A recent deterioration in the health of ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, along with political moves by Egypt's military to extend its ruling powers, has already resulted in massive street protests.
The political struggle in Cairo between the ruling military junta and the Muslim Brotherhood is causing another major upheaval in Egypt. As Israel looks on, leaders in Jerusalem acknowledge that not only will a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Cairo's government threaten the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, but it also increases the likelihood of a future war with Egypt on Israel's southern border.
Already, Sinai terrorists are striking out with jihad glee against Israeli targets along the Philadelphi Corridor, while Cairo military rulers remain distracted in their determination to control Egypt's political system. Israeli government leaders want to know who is finally going to rule Egypt so they have an "address" to blame for the continued terrorist attacks against the Jewish State. Until now, Jerusalem officials have been reluctant to aggressively deal with terrorism emanating from Egyptian soil because of the expected diplomatic fallout. However, if the terrorist attacks increase, Israel will step up defense operations along its border with Egypt, conducting pinpointed attacks against jihadists who are using the Sinai as their playing field. This would result in increased tensions with Cairo's new rulers, as well as with an already anti-Israeli Egyptian population.
It has been clearly noted by the IDF that more will be required to beef up Israel's security forces in the south if the result of Egypt's elections includes a strong Muslim Brotherhood presence in the halls of government, along with a weakened Egyptian military influence. This would benefit Hamas in Gaza, who already gets indirect help from the Brotherhood in smuggling arms through tunnels that link Gaza to the Sinai. Israel continues in its war of attrition with Hamas and other terrorist groups operating out of Gaza. Hamas has a growing arsenal which now includes heavy mortars, anti-tank missiles, and advanced Iranian-made Fajr-3 Katyusha and Grad missiles. For six years now, rocket fire emanating from terrorist groups in Gaza has killed 44 Israelis and wounded more than 1,600.
Yet, it is the ever-increasing terrorist cells operating out of the Sinai that are the greatest concern to Israel now. The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has lost its grip on the Sinai Peninsula, while at the same time, new alliances are forming among terrorist groups in the region. For example, Global Jihad is operating out of the Sinai and has formed new ties with Hamas government leaders in Gaza. At the same time, al-Qaeda has gained new recruits among disgruntled Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists who are leaving Gaza and joining the ranks of al-Qaeda in the Sinai.
Sinai Bedouin tribes are conducting terrorist attacks against the Jewish State because they want Israel to stop building a new protective fence along the border. The Bedouins receive millions of dollars in smuggling operations of people, weapons, drugs, and terrorists through breaches in the old fence. They possess huge arsenals of Libyan weapons such as advanced Grad missiles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, RPG rockets and launchers, and heavy machine guns. They will not hesitate to use these weapons against Israel during the long hot summer.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to continue Israel's construction of the new fence along its southern border, even in the face of increased attacks emanating from the Sinai. Recently, Netanyahu claimed, "This fence is designed to prevent both terrorism and the entry of infiltrators. From our perspective, its construction is a supreme national interest. I believe that if we hadn't decided two years ago to build the fence, we would be facing a flood of infiltrators and -- no less than this -- a flood of terrorism."
Israeli Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani recently explained that Israel's job is to finish the fence "as quickly as possible in order to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Israeli territory in the future."
In a recent cross-border attack on Monday, June 18, terrorists penetrated an unfinished area of the fence along the Gaza-Sinai border. They ambushed Israeli defense workers, setting off an explosive device, firing an RPG rocket, and killing an Israeli father of four young children. The IDF retaliated and shot three of the terrorists dead. The IAF (Israeli Air Force) later killed one of the planners of that attack, who was located in the southern Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has spoken openly about the disturbing deterioration in Egypt's control of the Sinai. He has claimed that whoever is considered the winner of Egypt's presidential election must take full responsibility for all of the country's international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel, and security arrangements in the Sinai. Israel is looking for someone in Egypt to swiftly put an end to the chaos. If Egypt's new leader does not soon take control of terrorist cells operating from the Sinai, Israeli leaders may take the matter into their own hands. Israel may have no other choice but to go in and clean out the terrorist cells that are threatening the peace on Israel's southern border. Israel's main objective will be to protect its population from ongoing terrorist attacks, even if it means facing a hostile Egyptian population and a disapproving diplomatic international community.
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.