WJC ANALYSIS – Shaking Sinai

By Pinhas Inbari

On Sunday night, a terror squad attacked an Egyptian border guard unit whose soldiers were breaking for iftar – the Ramadan fast-breaking dinner. Sixteen soldiers were killed and many more injured. After the slaughter, the terrorists captured two armored vehicles and attempted to drive them into Israel in order to initiate a large scale terrorist attack. Their plan was foiled by the IDF, which received some previous intelligence on the operation.

While no organization has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, the most likely perpetrator was an al-Qaeda affiliated group based in Sinai. The attack marks a new area of interest for al-Qaeda, which in the past has kept the Palestinian-Israeli issue on the margins, as compared to its main interest in the West led by the United States, as well as Russia and India.

Al-Qaeda is seeking to reinforce its powerhouse image by confronting global powers. A regional confrontation with Israel actually decreases its importance since it immediately reduces it to one of many groups involved in the Palestinian struggle. Indeed, al-Qaeda’s involvement in Israeli affairs does not signal its interest in the Jewish state but reveals its focus on the larger struggle for Islamic leadership. The attack in Sinai was an attempt to foil the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas’ efforts to join forces in the struggle for the leadership of radical Islamists.

The bitter rivalry between Hamas and Salafist groups like al-Qaeda in Gaza is a well-known fact. It began when al-Qaeda refused to join in the celebrations of Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election in 2007. On the contrary, Ayman Zawahiri himself cautioned Hamas against participating in the election and assuming governmental responsibilities that would come at the expense of jihad. Furthermore, al-Qaeda criticized Hamas for the series of ceasefires with Israel, causing some Hamas military personnel to defect to al-Qaeda’s ranks in Gaza.

Relations between Hamas and al-Qaeda deteriorated again when Hamas destroyed a Salafist mosque in Khan Yunis two years ago, killing the preacher who declared himself as Emir to his many followers. Since then, al-Qaeda has been hungry for revenge.

The deadly event in Rafah can be therefore considered as a strategic political vendetta.

Sunday’s attack was aimed against the Kerem Shalom border crossing that oversees the regulated movement between Gaza and Egypt. It is located next to the Rafah crossing that is not regulated and operates on an ad hoc basis. Hamas sees the regulation of the Rafah crossing as a strategic goal. It wishes to control the Palestinian side of the crossing and to be recognized by default as the true government of Gaza, displacing Ramallah’s authority over the crossing. This goal has suddenly come within reach following the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victory in Egypt. The cozy reception Hamas enjoyed at the Egyptian presidential palace has made al-Qaeda suspect that Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood would soon join forces and pushed it to act in order to stymie their efforts.

As much as the destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas alliance is a strategic al-Qaeda goal, so is its preservation and growth a principal objective for the new Egyptian government and the Gazan leadership. While Egypt may take radical measures to counter the immerging terrorist threat in Sinai, it will do its utmost to shield Hamas from any accountability, citing local “criminal groups” as the perpetrators instead. This policy was reaffirmed the day after the attack by a formal Muslim Brotherhood statement that outlined future relations with Hamas and indicated that the ruling party in Egypt intends to recognize Hamas as the legitimate ruler in Gaza and perhaps even give it responsibility over the border crossings.

Furthermore, the statement also hinted at a possible understanding reached between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to create a chain of events around the Israeli-Egyptian border designed to shake the peace treaty with Israel. Expected Israeli intervention would then be labeled as “aggression” that would serve as a pretext for the treaty’s cancellation. The attack on the Egyptian security unit in Sinai interfered with this strategy and necessitated a response from the Muslim Brotherhood which blamed none other than Mossad.

August 8, 2012 | 2 Comments »

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  1. The goal of Gaza is to trigger a conflict between Egypt and Il. At some point in time Egypt will oblige. They do not care how many Muslim die for Allah. That is their holy purpose in life: to die.