Egyptian control of the vast Sinai Peninsula is slipping fast. After gaining virtual sway over the north and its main roads, Islamic State Caliphate terrorists are moving ahead with an ambitious plan to devour a broad stretch of land on the eastern flank of central Sinai, DEBKAfile’s military sources report.
Achieving this objective would bring the jihadists in position to directly Egyptian beach resorts along the Gulf of Aqaba coast and its celebrated tourist resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. It would also bring them up to another section of the Egyptian-Israeli border.
These days, Egyptian forces move around the northern and eastern regions of the peninsula in heavily-armed convoys with tanks and air and helicopter support. Still, on Monday, Jan.9, a suicide bomber killed 13 Egyptian soldiers by blowing up a stolen garbage truck packed with explosives outside a police station in the northern Sinai center of El Arish. The blast was followed by an RPG ground attack on the checkpoint outside the building.
ISIS manages to inflict terror on Egyptian security forces despite the close military and intelligence cooperation between Egypt, the US and Israel for securing the north and keeping it out of ISIS control. Egyptian forces have their backs to the wall after failing to cement their authority there – or even carve out “sterile zones” for keeping the Islamists at arms length – although the Egyptian 2nd Army responsible for security in the north has been beefed up with tanks, air and helicopter reinforcements.
With northern Sinai virtually under their jackboots, ISIS is engaged in hard bargaining with local Bedouin tribes, primarily the chiefs of the Tiyaha tribal federation, to advance its plans to seize another large chunk of the peninsula.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources reveal that the ISIS team of negotiators is led by senior officers recently relocated from Iraq and Syria, who traveled through Jordan to Sinai and have taken command of the organization’s operations.
On the table is a proposal for the Tiyaha to permit ISIS to using its territory for launching strikes against the Egyptian army in the south (see attached map)
Their target here, say our military sources, would be the Egyptian 3rd Army which is responsible for all of central Sinai from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Sues Canal. Unlike the 2nd Army in the north, the Third is thinly scattered in disorganized spots across a large area and would be easy prey for terrorist attacks.
If the Bedouin chiefs agree to open up their lands to ISIS, the terrorists will be free to sabotage the Egyptian army’s main highways links between Egypt proper to Sinai.
The Islamic State’s creeping advance is directly tied to Palestinian terrorist operations in Israel and Jordanian counterterrorism security.
Against this backdrop, the Palestinian truck attack Sunday, Jan. 8 on a group of IDF soldiers and officer cadets must be considered relevant.
Four 20-year old IDF officers and officer cadets were killed and 13 injured under the wheels of a large truck driven by a Jerusalem Palestinian at the local Armon Hanatziv promenade. Another 30 were traumatized.
Fadi al Qunbar, 28, resident of the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Muqabar, became an ardent adherent of the Islamic State in recent months. His newly radical ways went unnoticed by Israeli anti-terror intelligence services.
Our sources note that the process of Islamist self-radicalization has begun spreading among Palestinians in the 18-35 age groups, often through ties with Jordanians of their age.
This process has received little public attention in Israel until now. Its first manifestations occurred last year: On Jan. 1, 206, three Israelis were murdered by a terrorist and seven injured on Dizengoff Rd., Tel Aviv’s main high street; and, on June 8, four Israelis died and 13 were injured in another terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, this one on the open air Sarona market.
The perpetrators of both attacks declared they were acting for ISIS and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Jerusalem attack Sunday is part of the same pattern.