A string of coordinated cross-border terrorist attacks against Israelis launched from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and Gaza yesterday underscored one of the ominous side effects of the “Arab Spring”: Egypt’s state security institutions have lost control over the Sinai region and are fighting a losing battle against Islamist terrorist groups and Bedouin smugglers along the border. The attacks claimed the lives of seven Israelis traveling in vehicles in southern Israel, and an eighth Israeli, a soldier, was killed fighting the terrorist infiltrators on Thursday night.
Israeli officials said they had indications that Palestinian militants in Gaza had planned to use smuggling tunnels to slip out of Gaza into the Sinai to prepare cross-border attacks. Israeli troops killed seven of the attackers, and Israel launched an air strike in Gaza that killed one leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group that had been launching rockets at Israeli civilians.
The fighting continued today, as Palestinian terrorists launched rocket attacks that wounded six Israelis in Ashdod, and Israel responded with more air strikes against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.
The surge in terrorist attacks has been enabled by a deteriorating security situation in the Sinai region after local Bedouin Arabs, some of whom have flocked to join militant Islamist groups, staged a series of attacks earlier this year on Egyptian police, driving many of them away from their posts. The Bedouin tribes, which long have resented what they see as neglect and discrimination against them by the Egyptian government, increasingly have cooperated with Palestinian militants to smuggle arms and other items into Gaza, while becoming progressively more infected with Islamist extremist ideologies that have mushroomed in Gaza.
In 2004, a militant Islamist group, Monotheism and Struggle, emerged with a mixed Bedouin-Palestinian membership and launched terrorist attacks against tourists in the Sinai. More recently, another militant group, The Youth of Islam, has been formed with a radical Islamist agenda. Earlier this month, leaflets were distributed in Sinai entitled “A Statement from Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninula,” which called for the establishment of an Islamic emirate ruled by Sharia law and the abolition of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, although the al-Qaeda network has not officially claimed to have formed such an organization. One of these shadowy groups may have been responsible for several attacks earlier this year that sabotaged a natural gas pipeline that carries Egyptian gas to Israel.
Last week, the Egyptian government dispatched 2,000 army troops to the Sinai to restore law and order, but much more needs to be done to prevent Islamist groups from gaining strength. Unless the central government’s authority can quickly be reestablished, Islamist militants will continue to exploit the vacuum of power to launch terrorist attacks against Israel, possibly triggering a much bigger conflict.