Egypt has been battling a militant insurgency, mostly based in the restive Sinai Peninsula, for years. It erupted shortly after the 25 January 2011 revolution and intensified after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Military expert Mohamed Al-Ghobari, former manager of the National Defence College of the Nasser Military Academy, in an interview with Daily News Egypt, analysed and explained the “war on terrorism,” how it has evolved, and how it has included four phases. He explained that it is now in its final phase. Through his military expertise, he points to the decisive battles that resulted in drastic changes on the ground.
Al-Ghobari described a “theatrical play” unfolding in Syria, and explained why he believes what is happening now is only a new Sykes-Picot.
How do you evaluate the situation in Syria, especially after the recent strikes by the US, France, and the UK?
The strikes were the result of the fact that the Syrian army’s military abilities have increased, and it has started to liberate more lands.
Another reason for the strikes is improving the morale of the terrorist groups supported by America.
The strikes were carried out in coordination with Russia, not behind its back.
The participation of the UK and France was to satisfy US President Donald Trump and give him false legitimacy to rescue him from the erosion of his popularity.
Do you mean that what occurred was done in full coordination between the US and Russia?
Of course. Everything that is happening in Syria is merely a theatrical play and a new Sykes-Picot through an between all the parties which look, from afar, like they are in conflict, but the truth is, Russians are part of this war only to get their share of the cake. Russian intervention only started when the Islamic State group (IS) was close to Latakia. Before that, they had no intention to directly intervene, but they eventually decided to intervene and have obvious military bases in the region for the first time.
Who moves the Western alliance in the region?
The UK leads all the movements, and the US follows, hand in hand with France.
Do you think that what is happening is a continuation of the so-called Greater Middle East Project?
Of course. The events stress that the plans for the region are rather old. Their implementation is still taking place. The Greater Middle East Project is still going on. It is one of the many projects sought to be implemented throughout history, under many different names, but with the same colonial goals that were determined more than once, especially in the London conference held over two years to study and discuss necessary aspects to secure Western and European interests in the Arab region. This took place from 1905 to 1907. The result was several recommendations, with the most prominent of them being that the Arab region must be fragmented in order for control to be exerted over the trade routes and international transportation between the east and the west, and the south and the north, and all their wealth. These are deemed the markets in which Western industrial products will be spread.
This means that all Arab countries are targeted and threatened by this project, especially the leading countries of the region.
Moving to the domestic situation, how do you see the developments of the “war on terrorism” in Sinai?
Operation Sinai 2018 is the fourth and final phase of the strategic plan to combat terrorism. The first phase started after the terrorist elements spread across Sinai following the 25 January revolution in 2011. Terrorism started to spread in some regions in Sinai, with only a limited number of forces from the army that was not sufficient compared to the arming of these terrorists.
The second phase began with the international community’s processing of the political scene in Egypt, because the country’s national security became infiltrated in Sinai. The armed forces had to breach the peace treaty with Israel, specifically the security annex of the peace treaty. Even if Israel did not agree, Egypt had to obtain the approval of the international community. The size of the armed forces there at the time was not enough to fight all the terrorists. However, an elite group was sent without an announcement. The result was that the armed forces and the police incurred some losses, such as the targeting of 101 battalions and the Karm al Qawadis battalion.
The third stage started after the ambush of the Abu Rifai checkpoint as some terrorist elements hoped to regain control over Sheikh Zuweid. The armed forces responded harshly to such terrorist operations. The battle of Sheikh Zuweid took place and 205 terrorist elements were killed and more were arrested. Thus, the greatest amount of information was obtained on the terrorist elements in the Sinai and their places of concentration. The Martyr’s Right operations 1, 2, 3, and 4 were carried out, clearing the Jabal Al-Halal and eliminating the logistical support of terrorist elements. The border was closed and tightened to prevent the external supply. That was then followed by the fourth phase of the military operations announced by the president. This came via several steps: the processing of the political scene since the Riyadh Conference, where he declared four points of resistance to terrorism and the United Nations adopted a method to resist terrorism but did not constitute the mechanism to implement it. The president’s visit to the United Nations in September last year followed, where he announced the fight against terrorism on behalf of the world in Egypt and proclaimed the UN’s failure. Then, the president ordered the chief of staff on 29 November to eliminate terrorism in three months, in an operation called Sinai 2018. The operation achieved great results across all facilities used by terrorists.
How do you see Human Rights Watch’s critical statements on the situation in Sinai?
Such reports are political and not about rights. The organisation works with the owners of the Greater Middle East Project, namely Western countries and Qatar.
The armed forces have a strategic view and have been keen highlighting the efforts to secure support to the civilians in Sinai with every statement it puts out.
If we read the data, we will find that the operations are accompanied by supplying food, issuing documents and IDs for residents, which means that the operations are not only security ones.
In more than one statement, the armed forces announced the release of dozens of people who had been arrested and had not been proven to be involved in any terrorist activity.
Therefore, I believe that the comprehensive Sinai 2018 operation and armed forces statements are the biggest response to the Human Rights Watch reports.
Have Egypt’s recent armaments contributed to the anti-terrorism campaign?
Of course, the results of recent military operations showed development thanks to the new weapons which also helped in avoiding losses among civilians in Sinai.
The positive effect of these armaments was not limited to the fight against terrorism. The new German submarines will protect foreign investments in Egypt’s territorial waters which increased by 125 km in the Mediterranean after the demarcation of the maritime boundary between Egypt and Cyprus and between Egypt and Greece.
Israel opposed Egypt’s acquisition of submarines to maintain the power balance in the region, but the new deals reinforced Egypt’s position.
A few days ago, Egypt celebrated Sinai Liberation Day. What were the factors that led to that success?
The preparation for the liberation war waged in 1973 began immediately after the six-day war in 1967 through intensive diplomatic efforts with international organisations, especially the United Nations, and major powers such as the United States and the Soviet Union. These diplomatic moves contributed to the condemnation of the Israeli aggression on Egypt and other Arab territories by major international powers, and the issuance of UN Resolution 242 which calls on Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied after 1967. However, Israel did not implement the resolution and continues the occupation.
Egypt then began to mobilise Arab states to put pressure on the international community with the renowned slogan “what is taken by force can only be recovered by force” announced during the Arab Summit in Khartoum, held on 29 August 1967.
Meanwhile, Egypt started to rebuild its armed forces and made a number of armaments in preparation for the liberation battle.
I remember how the general command of the armed forces prepared intensive trainings for soldiers and troops on facing water barriers and protecting defensive units and camps.
Egypt also implemented the so-called deception plan developed by Marshal Mohamed Abdul Ghani Al Gamasi, which made the enemy at the time think that Egypt was not serious about launching the liberation battle.
Before the victory, the Egyptian economy turned into a war economy and meant mobilising all factories and products to meet the needs of the armed forces first.
The peace negotiations stage was more important as the Egyptians managed to recover every inch of our land. Without the Egyptians’ insistence, we would not have celebrated every year the complete withdrawal of the enemy from the national territories. Everyone should know that the country’s anti-terrorism campaign is a completion of the liberation war. The enemy does not tire of trying to seize our land, but we also do not tire of defending it.
Do you think what is happening now is similar to the periods of the attrition and October wars and the peace negotiations?
I see many similarities between the two periods. The Arab Spring and new Middle East project are similar to the 1967 defeat, because the enemy achieved what they hoped without direct confrontation, using new tools such as terrorism, economic blockades, and psychological warfare. These plans began in the 1990s and could not be implemented before the Arab Spring. However, the 30 June revolution put the country on the right path.