Egypt still has problems in Sinai decades after Israel’s war

A suicide attack on an army post in the North Sinai city of al-Arish on October 10 bespoke volumes of the danger that still lurks in the northeastern Egyptian territory, which shares borders with Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

Army troops succeeded in foiling the attack and arresting three attackers who turned out to belong to a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Sinai.

Forty-six years after fighting a war against Israel for the liberation of Sinai, Egypt finds itself in yet another war.

Egyptians marked the anniversary of their country’s war victory over Israel on October 6. Nevertheless, they are still fighting in the territory they managed to liberate from Israeli occupation 46 years ago.

ISIS Sinai took root and grew in this parched Egyptian territory in late 2014 when a homegrown militant group swore allegiance to presumed ISIS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Since then, the group, which includes some foreign fighters, mainly members of extremist factions based in Gaza, has been staging deadly attacks against the Egyptian army and police, especially in North Sinai where the group uses mountainous areas and vast deserts in hiding.

Egyptian troops have been mounting their crackdown on the ISIS terrorists, within operation “Comprehensive Sinai”, which kicked off in February 2018.

The operation has included the deployment of tens of thousands of army troops and policemen who comb almost every inch of sand in Sinai’s deserts and mountains. It has also included a comprehensive air, ground, and naval siege around Sinai to prevent the ISIS terrorist from receiving supplies.

So far, the operation has succeeded in significantly undermining the ISIS terrorists, a fact manifest in a drop in the number of attacks the terrorists are able to stage on army and police posts in the northern part of Sinai.

In 2014, the ISIS terrorists staged 222 attacks against army troops, according to the government-run State Information Service, the official media and public relations apparatus of the Egyptian state.

In 2016, the terrorists were able to stage 199 attacks only and in 2017, there were 50 attacks only

The agency revealed that ISIS terrorists were capable of launching eight attacks only in 2018, which attests to the success of counterterrorism operations carried out by the Egyptian army and police in Sinai, security and military analysts said.

“Egypt will keep fighting these terrorists until it purges the whole of Sinai of them,” said retired army general Nasr Salem. “There is marked success in the fight against this group.”

Together with the successes it is scoring against the local ISIS branch, Egypt is also allocating billions of dollars for the development of Sinai, having drawn up a plan that contains dozens of industrial, agricultural and housing projects for the peninsula.

The development plan also includes the construction of a large number of universities, schools, and medical facilities in an area neglected for decades by successive Egyptian governments.

“Sinai has a great economic potential that is being exploited now,” said military expert Adel al-Omda. “Egypt will keep developing Sinai side by side with the war it launches against terrorism in it.”

Nonetheless, the drop in the number of ISIS attacks in Sinai does not mean that the terrorist organization is over or the terrorist threat is out.

In the last few weeks, ISIS terrorists have been trying to make a comeback. On September 27, ISIS terrorists launched an attack on an army post in the North Sinai town of Bi’er al-Abd, leaving three conscripts and a civilian dead. Egyptian warplanes then killed 15 attackers, according to a security source.

Apart from attempts by the local ISIS branch to make resurgence, Egypt is afraid of the effect of the ongoing unrest in neighboring Libya on the security situation in Sinai.

Egyptian authorities say most of the arms and explosives that fall in the hands of ISIS terrorists in Sinai come from Libya.