A senior Israeli security official met a small group of his Egyptian counterparts for several hours in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss mounting terrorist violence in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt’s Masrawy news site said, based on a report from subscription-only German news agency DPA.
DPA, citing sources at Cairo International Airport, said the Israeli and Egyptian security officials discussed the latest developments in the Sinai, coordination to protect the Sinai’s Eastern border with Israel, new strategy to curtail heightened terrorist activity that has plagued the Sinai since the ouster of Islamist Egyptian President Muhamed Morsi nearly two months ago and yesterday’s brazen ambush and execution of 25 Egyptian policemen.
Tuesday’s meeting reflects the deepening collaboration between the two security forces over common trouble in the Sinai, where Israel’s Shin Bet security service now counts 15 Salafist terror groups operating from the desert, with four seen as being especially violent, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported, citing unnamed sources at the security agency.
Haaretz listed the four groups and described their most recent crimes: Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, is known for firing rockets at Eilat, most recently last week; Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen Fi Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, killed an Israeli civilian last year; Al-Takfir wal-Hijra, was behind the August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian police; and Jaish al-Islam, founded by the Dughmush clan from Gaza involved in kidnapping IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and now active in the Sinai, is seeking to kidnap Israeli tourists.
To fight the threat, Haaretz reported that the Shin Bet has created a new unit that will focus solely on the Sinai, with “resources and manpower on a par with those devoted to thwarting attacks north of Ramallah in the West Bank – and some sources say they are even greater.” Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the new unit is part of a reorganization of existing resources from across silos.
Under the new arrangement, the IDF’s intelligence branch will be responsible for collecting intelligence from Sinai balloons, cameras stationed along the Sinai border fence and satellite photographs, while the Shin Bet team will focus on preventing planned attacks from being carried out.
Estimates of the total number of terrorist operatives in the Sinai range from “several hundred” according to the Shin Bet to “a few thousand” according to Israeli Military Intelligence, Haaretz said. While the terrorist forces include leaders from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and especially the Gaza Strip, most of their foot soldiers are Sinai Bedouin who have become radicalized, Haaretz’s sources said.
“The proliferation of Salafi groups, affiliated with the global jihad movement, in Sinai, is a development of the last three to five years. The Sinai Bedouin were for years relatively secular, but they have recently undergone a process of accelerated Islamization. Israeli intelligence sources cite several reasons for this, including increased exposure to the Internet in general and Islamist websites in particular, the arrival of foreign clerics, and their growing alienation from the central government in Cairo,” Haaretz reported.