While Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty, the increased activity of ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sinai has prompted greater coordination than the two countries have had in the decades since it was signed. Additionally, Israel has tightened its security along the Egyptian border, building a new barrier to keep out militants rumored to be planning attacks in Israel. According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without the changes, by now “we would have been overflowed by thousands of ISIS fighters from Sinai.”
Wilayat Sinai has grown bolder since taking responsibility for downing a Russian charter plane in October, an act which killed all 244 people on board. The terror group has carried out ongoing attacks against Egyptian soldiers, overrunning military outposts and planting roadside bombs. Experts acknowledge the group’s efficacy.
“They have genius strategists,” said Mohannad Sabry, an Egyptian journalist and author of a book on the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai. “If you study the map of their attacks, they obviously know what they are doing exactly, and it shows that they have a great deal of freedom of mobility.”
Despite this, Egypt claims it is winning the war against ISIS in Sinai, a claim Egypt’s allies fear is suspect. There is no way of independently verifying the Egyptian claims because journalists are not allowed into the lawless Northern Sinai region.
Of particular concern is the possibility multinational peacekeeping forces could become a target.
“Like anywhere, they could be considered a potential target,” said Lt. Col. Yaron Malka, the deputy commander of Israel’s Saqi Brigade that defends Israel’s border with Sinai. In fact, in a recent tweet, the ISIS affiliate took responsibility for destroying an American-made Egyptian M60 tank near Gora airport, used by peacekeepers as a base.
Meanwhile, both Israel and Egypt have been wary of Hamas involvement in the conflict, suspecting militants from Sinai have been using Hamas smuggling tunnels to find refuge from Egypt in the Gaza Strip. Hamas denies the allegations, saying it has no sympathy for ISIS, which branded the ruling party in Gaza “infidels” in a video two years ago. Pressure from Egypt has prompted Hamas, also considered a terrorist organization, to bring its own border under control, keeping ISIS militants out.
According to one Hamas official, there are now more than 300 Hamas fighters deployed in three areas along the sea and two land border crossings with the Sinai.
“The national security forces redeployed along the borders with Egypt, and it is part of the security plan to fully control the borders and the stability of it, as well as the security of our Egyptian brothers,” Eyad al-Bozom, a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman, said in a statement.
While dangerous times make for strange bedfellows, it is important to recall that at the end of the day, the Bible assures us it is all in God’s hands.