Counter-Terrorism: The Curse Of The Sinai


July 2, 2012: In response to growing activity by Islamic terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt has sent several thousand troops into the area. This force includes several hundred special counter-terrorism commandos. This is another attempt to reduce the smuggling and Islamic terrorism in the Sinai.

Over the last two years Egypt has stationed more police in Sinai in an effort to crack down on Bedouin smugglers. The Egyptian security forces have thus far had a tough time eradicating the smugglers from their desert strongholds. A full-scale military campaign against the arms and narcotics traffickers on the Egyptian-Gaza Strip border, complete with armored vehicles and helicopter gunships, has not done much better. Most senior Egyptian commanders know that the smuggling problem had become too serious for the paramilitary (corrupt and intimidated) border guards to handle and required military intervention to put a stop to it. Most of Egypt's generals figured that the smugglers would be easily killed, arrested, or suppressed once the "awesome might" of the Egyptian Army was deployed against them. This is not unusual in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, where the general population and especially military officers are taught early and often that their military is the most powerful, competent, and honest in the world. Of course none of this is true and it's starting to show. Egypt's army is largely illiterate (especially among the enlisted ranks), rife with corruption, and wedded to outdated organizational concepts and tactics. It's large and has shiny new weapons but levels of training, discipline, and faith in its officer corps are a serious problem. 

One of the biggest problems the Egyptians are facing here is the incompetence of their intelligence services. The inefficiency, incompetence, and brutality of Egypt's intelligence services has been a big problem for well over two decades but like all major problems in Egypt that needs fixing, the government refuses to acknowledge it, let alone do something about it. Part of this isn't necessarily new in the Middle East. In the Arab world, intelligence services are usual less than effective in fighting terrorism or countering espionage. This is thanks largely to the fact that governments in those parts of the world see their spies as a means of keeping themselves in power and often spend more time arresting and spying on their own people as opposed to arresting and spying on terrorists, spies, and foreign powers. This is especially true in Egypt, where a myriad of security and intelligence services spend most of their time torturing and detaining the government's critics.

The amount of time the intelligence agencies spend spying on the population leaves them little time for carrying out important duties, like actually investigating espionage and terrorism, or developing assets and informants in the Sinai to help aid the army's campaign against the smugglers. Unfortunately for the soldiers fighting in the Sinai, lack of good intelligence is likely to continue, further damaging not only the military's anti-trafficking mission but Egypt's international reputation as a major military power.

Islamic terrorists in the Sinai are an old problem. But what really got the attention of the Egyptians was the terrorist bombing in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on July 23rd, 2005. At that point the Egyptians were at last forced to admit that they had a problem in the Sinai and they sent in counter-terrorism forces. The Egyptians soon discovered that Hezbollah and al Qaeda terrorists had taken up residence in the Sinai Peninsula. This had long been suspected by the Egyptians but they believed the terrorists were mainly interested in supporting attacks against Israel, especially in Gaza. On top of all this, the Egyptians have a special problem trying to deal with terrorists in the Sinai. Because of the 1979, peace treaty with Israel, the Sinai Peninsula is demilitarized. That means no Egyptian troops and very few police. Seven years ago the Egyptians had to ask the Israelis for permission to send several thousand Egyptian police commandoes into the Sinai to find and destroy the terrorist camps. Israel was at first reluctant to do this, feeling that it would establish a precedent and that the Egyptians would refuse to withdraw the additional paramilitary police from Sinai. Meanwhile, the Egyptian police already in Sinai continued to gather more evidence of terrorist networks in the rugged, and thinly populated, desert. The area has been the scene of smuggling for thousands of years and the rugged hills contain many caves, long used to hide goods and people. The Islamic terrorists paid well for assistance from the local Bedouin and did not cheat or abuse their hosts. Guess who got more cooperation from the Sinai Bedouin? To the locals the Islamic terrorists are seen as friends, while the Egyptian police are perceived as evil invaders. The problem in the Sinai are expected to continue.




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