Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Threat from Sinai

The covered body of one of the killed gunmen (Photo: Channel 10, Israel)

On Friday, June 2, gunmen opened fire at an Armor Corps patrol and attempted to storm an IDF outpost near Mount Sagi in Israel on the Egyptian border. Israeli troops returned fire and killed two men; a third gunman fled back into Egypt. Left on the scene were AK-47s, communications equipment, and, according to some sources, explosives. The first strange twist in the story is that the two men were wearing Egyptian uniforms. Some report that they were the uniforms of officers, others simply of police officers (see Ha'aretz, Jerusalem Post, DebkaFile). The second twist has been the relative quiet about these events on the eve of Olmert's visit to Egypt, where he is talking with Mubarak. After all, this seems rather serious.

The folks at DebkaFile have been consistently pushing for greater cognizance of a threat from Egypt. Sometimes, they allege that the Egyptian government is also involved. In this case, they argue that the three-man team was an al Qaeda cell that had infiltrated Egyptian special counter-terror forces and struck out on a wildcat mission. The Egyptians, to no one's surprise, are doing everything possible to keep this quiet. The circumstances and the relative paucity of news about this incident recall the attacks on the multinational peacekeeping force in Sinai, apparently by an al Qaeda cell, on April 26 this year. Egypt, they argue, is losing in the battle against terror on the Sinai peninsula, and whether by incompetence or design, since Israeli forces' withdrawal from the Gazan-Egyptian border, terrorists affiliated with various Palestinian factions and/or with al Qaeda have been able to increase weapons smuggling and terror coordination.

It is possible that the Debka people are pursuing their own agenda here - continuing the anti-withdrawal / disengagement battle and trying to further undermine the security reputation of Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. But perhaps they are right to point to the threats a) from terrorists operating out of Sinai, and b) from the Egyptian military itself.

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