Egyptian security forces launch major offensive against ISIS

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ordered what's being described as a "major offensive" in the Sinai region, where ISIS fighters have been creating chaos in the last two years.

In addition to the Sinai, Egyptian forces are expected to carry out operations against other terrorists and "criminal elements" in the  Nile Delta and Western Desert.  Targets there include the Muslim Brotherhood and criminal gangs.

ABC News:

The announcement comes amid local media reports of heightened alert levels in north Sinai hospitals and in other neighboring provinces in anticipation of casualties from the operation.

It also comes ahead of the presidential election in March in which President Abdel[ ]Fattah el-[Sisi] is running for a second four-year term with no serious contenders.  El-Sissi was elected in 2014 in a landslide with promises of restoring security.

Egypt has been struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency in the turbulent Sinai region for years.  Militant attacks have increased dramatically in the country since the military's 2013 ouster of elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi following mass protests against his divisive one-year rule.  The violence has been concentrated in northern Sinai Peninsula but has also spread to the mainland.

In November, el-[Sisi] gave security forces a three-month deadline to restore stability to northern Sinai.  His instructions followed the killing of 311 [worshipers] in a terrorist attack on a mosque in the turbulent region, the deadliest in Egypt's modern history.

Later, militants fired a projectile at el-Arish airport and struck an Apache helicopter that was part of the entourage of Egypt's defense and interior ministers who were in the city on an unannounced visit on Dec. 19.  Neither minister was in the aircraft when the attack took place, but the missile killed an officer and wounded two others.  Egypt is currently building a buffer zone around the airport.

Egypt is also facing a growing number of attacks by militants in its Western Desert along the porous border with Libya that has been the source of serious concern to authorities who contend [that]Islamic militants and smugglers use it as their route into the country.

The country has been under a state of emergency after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday last year in an attack that was claimed by the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group.

El-Sisi has no meaningful opposition in the March presidential election, but he certainly wants to build support among the voters, who will also elect the parliament. 

There is no indication that the Israeli air force will support the attacks, but you have to figure that it will have some role to play, given its assistance the previous two years.  The Egyptian army could use Israel's help.  While large and well equipped, the Egyptian military has had a lot of trouble subduing ISIS in the Sinai, and from recent attacks, it appears that the Egyptians haven't made much headway. 

Of course, any coordination between the Israelis and Cairo would have to be clandestine.  But it is encouraging that when the news broke last weekend following the exposure of the cooperation between the two longtime enemies, the Arab street was mostly quiet.  Is this a sign that Arabs are coming to terms with the strategic necessity of embracing Israel as an ally against Iran and ISIS?

If so, it's exactly what is needed to check Iran's hegemonic designs on the region and prevent ISIS from re-establishing a significant base of operations anywhere in the Arab Middle East.