|Photo: Reuters/Muhamed Abd El Gahny|
By Joanna Paraszczuk
Security in the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula continued to be a pressing issue in both Egypt and Israel this week, with threats to both countries from the al-Qaida-affiliated Salafist jihadi groups who have found fertile breeding grounds in Sinai since the Egyptian revolution.
On Thursday, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party demanded law enforcement authorities move to regain control of security in Sinai – following a week of reports of terrorist activity in the troubled peninsula.
Over the past months, al-Qaida-linked groups have conducted a series of deadly terrorist attacks against both Egyptian and Israeli interests on the border, including the September 21 shootout that killed 20-year-old Cpl. Netanel Yahalomi.
The increased jihadi activity threatens security in both countries, and has led to increasing calls for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to amend the Camp David peace accords with Israel in order to allow for a greater Egyptian military presence in Sinai.
On Tuesday, a Cairo court dismissed a petition calling for the peace agreement to be amended, but the future of the Camp David accords is likely to remain a pressing political issue in Egypt.
Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities’ arrest last week of a terror cell in Nasr City suspected to be linked to al-Qaida has heightened fears in both countries that extremists are expanding out of Sinai and into other areas of Egypt.
Those fears are also bolstered by increasing efforts by al-Qaida to align itself with extremist Salafist and jihadi elements across the Arab world, including Egypt.
In a recent video posted on jihadi websites, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri incited Egyptians to rise up against their government and “grab Egypt’s dignity and honor from corrupt hands.”
Meanwhile, the most active Salafist jihadi groups in Gaza, including Ansar Bayit al- Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) and the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), have targeted Israeli interests and continue to threaten the country.
In response, Israel has stepped up its counterterrorism activities, last month carrying out a successful targeted killing of two senior MSC operatives, Ashraf Salah Hisham and Ali Abd Karim Saidani, codenamed Abu al-Walid al- Maqdisi.
On Wednesday, MSC posted a statement on jihadi websites saying the terror group was seeking “reward from Allah” for Israel’s targeted killings of Saidani and Salah.
In its statement, the terror group called on Muslims to confront “the hateful Jews,” saying that the “treacherous assassination by criminal Jewish warplanes” of Saidani and Salah should motivate Muslims to wage jihad.
The MSC also slammed Hamas, who had previously detained and imprisoned Saidani for his role in confrontations between Hamas and Salafist jihadi operations in Gaza.
Israel faces increased threats from the growth in weapons smuggling from Egypt, including across the country’s 1,200- kilometer border with Sudan.
According to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Iran provides Sudan with weapons which are then transferred via Sinai to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
The growth in weapons smuggling, combined with increasing Salafist-jihadi activity in Sinai, has led to fears that Sinai terrorists could also obtain trafficked weapons and use them against Israeli and Egyptian targets.
An apparent raid on a Khartoum munitions plant last week – which Sudan said was carried out by Israel – served to highlight Tehran’s role in providing weapons to Hamas, and the dangers posed by the Sinai smuggling network.
Egypt, as well as Israel, is in danger from the increased weapons trafficking from Iran via Sudan, a senior Israeli defense official commented.
“In actuality, these munitions pass through Sudan, so it is endangering its major neighbor, Egypt. It harms national security because tomorrow these arms could also be used against the Egyptians,” Gilad told Army Radio, the Reuters news agency reported.
In a Thursday report, New York-based intelligence analysis firm The Soufan Group, noted that several years ago the Khartoum newspaper, Rai al-Shaab published a claim that a secret agreement allowed the Quds Force, the IRGC’s extraterritorial unit, to set up a factory in Khartoum to streamline the supply chain to Hamas and other Tehran-backed groups in Middle East and Africa.
“While the report was never confirmed or denied, the newspaper was nevertheless shut down shortly afterward and its deputy editor arrested on charges of treason and espionage,” the Soufan Group added.
The Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based independent research project, has documented the presence of a drone, landmines and other Iranian weapons in Sudan.
The project’s 2009 survey lists Iran as one of the top exporters of small arms to Sudan. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s Arms Transfer Database, which details suppliers and recipients of major conventional weapons, lists Iran has having exported five Shahin multiple rocket launchers to Sudan in 2008.