June 6, 2010:
The Egyptian government has finally gotten fed up with Bedouin smugglers operating in the Sinai near Gaza. The Bedouin tribes that operate in the Sinai desert make a lot of money from smuggling everything from weapons and drugs to more mundane items like food and medicine. The Bedouin, over the last five or so years, have pretty much turned the Sinai areas where they operate into a lawless, Wild West. In addition to Gaza, the Bedouins have also been involved in smuggling arms and Al-Qaeda fighters out of countries like Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, and into countries like Iraq and Syria. All of this has been very lucrative.
The Egyptian border police, despite their efforts to crack down on the smuggling gangs, have met with little to no success, since most of the 20-battalion, 12,000-man Frontier Corps (basically border police) are either extremely corrupt or just plain afraid of being killed trying to interdict the smugglers. The Bedouins are often known to attack Frontier Corps stations and murder the officers there in order to free smugglers (often members of their families) who have been arrested. The Frontier Corps is divided up into 10 battalions for border surveillance, 2 for general peacekeeping, 5 for narcotics interdiction, and 2 for miscellaneous anti-smuggling. The problem is, despite their equipment and weaponry, they're simply not getting the job done, because of graft and intimidation.
The Egyptian government is hoping to solve the problem once and for all by deploying Special Forces units from the Egyptian Army into the Sinai, where they have been operating in force for some time now. Like everything that has to do with military activity in Egypt, the government has kept these operations in the Sinai secret. The Egyptian special ops units are apparently meeting with heavy resistance. The fighting in the Sinai between the smugglers and Egyptian special ops forces have often been very intense. Most of the fighting has been occurring in the central Sinai area, with a number of extremely violent, large-scale skirmishes occurring. The Egyptian special forces offensive has been backed with heavy artillery, armored vehicles, and helicopter gunships. The clashes have become so severe that the Egyptian forces have, on at least one occasion, been forced to pull back from the fighting in order to restock their ammunition, rest, and organize reinforcements for the next round of attacks.
Egypt actually maintains one of the largest special operations assets in the world. The Egyptian Army fields the 414th Paratroop Brigade and the 222nd Air Mobile Brigade as its airborne infantry assets. It also maintains 8 Special Forces Regiments or Groups organized into one Special Forces Corps. Many of these units are specially trained for counter-terrorism. Thus, the Egyptians certainly have the manpower available to put a serious dent in the Bedouin's smuggling networks.
Most of the Bedouin smugglers being targeted by the Egyptian Army are located in the central Sinai valley of Wadi Omar, consisting of massive mountain strongholds. Apparently, the smugglers have put up quite a fight so far, using RPG-7s, heavy machine guns, and small arms to beat off several of the Egyptian offensives.
Whether the Bedouins can prevail and keep the territory they consider theirs remains to be seen. The border police, in the past, sometimes launched major crackdowns, but didn't have the stomach to wage an all-out war against the Bedouins. This time, it seems, the government is determined to wipe out the border smuggling, and it has all the time in the world to try. Unlike previous crackdowns, the Egyptian government is not treating this like a law enforcement operation, but a full-scale military offensive.