Egypt is preparing a military offensive against Islamist militants in the Sinai who have launched a series of terrorist attacks against Egyptian border guards in an effort to weaken the central government and provoke a war with Israel.
This campaign is expected to include armored forces and air strikes in the first major Egyptian military action in the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula since the 1973 Arab–Israeli war.
Israeli officials voiced alarm at Egypt’s violation of the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty, which bans the deployment of tanks near the border. Israel is rightly concerned that Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood–dominated government will use the deteriorating security situation in the Sinai as a means of undermining the peace treaty, which it has long criticized.
Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi opportunistically used an August 5 terrorist attack in the Sinai that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers as a pretext for removing holdovers from the Mubarak regime from the top of the army’s chain of command. This bold move removed important constraints on Morsi’s power and has cleared the way for his Muslim Brotherhood movement to consolidate its control over Egypt’s state institutions.
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, Morsi is likely to use the Sinai campaign to boost his political position at home, thumb his nose at Israel, and escalate Egypt’s cooperation with Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that controls Gaza and remains wedded to a terrorist war of attrition to destroy Israel.
Morsi is no friend of the United States or the West, let alone Israel. He has already announced that he will visit Iran on August 30 to attend a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement that will boost Iran’s efforts to wriggle out from under international sanctions imposed due to its nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, Iran once again rattled its rockets to underscore its nuclear defiance. Tehran unveiled a new missile and announced plans to build an air defense complex to discourage a preventive strike by Israel or the U.S. against its nuclear infrastructure. Iran’s truculent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned last Friday that there would be no place in the “new Middle East” for Israel, which he denounced as a “cancerous tumor.”
Given these bellicose Iranian threats and clear evidence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile buildup, it is little wonder that Israel is mulling a preventive military strike in self-defense. But the Obama Administration remains more assertive about restraining Israel than in confronting Iran.