By Khaled Okasha
Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM) officially announced their allegiance to ISIS and their recognition of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the Amir of all Muslims this week, with both groups exchanging support via web pages affiliated with jihadist organisations. Forming an even more serious a concern, ISIS sent ABM a new target map to implement in the coming phase, which attempts to escalate terrorist operations against the military in Sinai and move members into Cairo and other surrounding cities in order to carry out more attacks.
ISIS, according to the plan that it commissioned ABM to carry out, is betting that the Sinai operation will be a source of major stress for the Egyptian security services, but operations in other provinces are the most painful and influential.
It is understood that the official announcement of the relationship between both groups must have been preceded by consultation and coordination regarding ABM’s capabilities and the nature of operations currently being carried out in order for it to become an agent of a bigger and more well-known group. The recent terrorist attack that targeted military forces in Sheikh Zuweid suspended the scene in Sinai after nearly a year and a half of military and security operations in that most difficult theatre.
The first thing that must be assessed are the objectives of Sinai-based armed groups so that we may determine where they. These groups were betting on two objectives, the first drawn up immediately before 30 June 2013 and the period following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This stage witnessed intensified terrorist attacks undertaken by groups who were further prepared after one year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, and they hoped to hijack the north eastern part of Sinai to declare it an Islamic Caliphate.
During the first hours of the 30 June revolution, some units of the Second Army were moved to the farthest area in the eastern border, forming the first variable of the equation. They thwarted the armed groups’ goals through focused and central strikes as well as the first step that impacted their lifeline, namely, the Rafah tunnels that extend into Gaza.
In light of a failure to achieve the first objective due to a successful military action that was able to fill the security void quickly, the armed groups made tactical changes to realise their second objective, which began with uniting all armed groups under the banner of ABM. Following this, the lengthy process of exhausting security forces in Sinai commenced.
This tactic is used on a basic level by most new generations of Al-Qaeda groups, who are rather effective to a large extent in employing the technique of standing armies. After a period of deceptive latency under the impact of harsh blows by the military – which is what took place in Sinai – the tactic adopts a new strategy characterised by attracting security personnel away from paved roads and into quicksand or implementing continuous and sporadic operations. These do not allow the battle to reach a decisive stage, resulting in a stand-off in which neither party can take control.
The official party undertaking the confrontation, the interior ministry’s security forces, may be able to withstand this strategy, which is exactly what Egypt succeeded in doing during the wave of terrorism that took place during the 1980’s and 1990’s.. But what is most difficult today and requires quick action is that the official party – the military forces – has been forced to defend national security in the region despite a lack of readiness on part of the police to face a fight that has a hidden regional dimension.
Here we find ourselves in an operational theatre that is in need of a rapid change in the equation on the ground to ensure the safe exit of our armed forces without exhaustion, bleeding, and anticipated losses. This change in the equation requires forward strides, and one of the first successful steps was taken by military commanders immediately following the Sheikh Zuweid attack by creating a buffer zone on the borderline to finally eliminate weapons tunnels.
Rafah residents have been transported inward and west at a distance of 500 metres which could reach 2,500 metres in the next stage in order for the military to be able to effectively control the border and deprive terrorist group’s contact with the Gaza Strip. There are still many proposals under discussion for the establishment of a steel insulator wall or deep water channel to prevent the tunnels between Gaza and Sinai from being rebuilt once again.
But to really protect Sinai from the dangers associated with the arrival of ISIS and all that it carries out in Syria and Iraq today, and before terrorism escalates to a point that is difficult to confront, especially if ABM moves its operations to the interior as ISIS instructed, the Egyptian government should directly develop and inject investments into the region in a way that attracts a large number of people who do not want to wait until terrorism is eradicated to start.
The region’s main problem now is that it suffers from low population numbers, which is the ideal climate for terrorist activities carried out by groups like ISIS; rapid population growth will form a wall to prevent the region from slipping into instability, and the human factor provides constant motivation for security or military action. For now, this is the most effective weapon to turn the equation in favour of Sinai.
Khaled Okasha is a former police officer in Sinai, strategic expert and TV presenter