Gaza-Sinai Terrorist Threat to Israel and Egypt


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Terrorism in Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula has plagued both Israel and
Egypt for years. The situation is worsening due to the spread of jihadist terrorism to the area combined
with the political upheaval in Egypt.

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Gaza-Sinai Terrorist Threat to Israel and Egypt

  1. 1. Jordan Eilat @israelproject theisraelproject tipinfo Gaza-Sinai Terrorist Threat to Israel and Egypt
  2. 2. Factsheet: Gaza-Sinai Terrorist Threat to Israel and Egypt Introduction Terrorism in Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula has plagued both Israel and Egypt for years. The situation is worsening due to the spread of jihadist terrorism to the area com- bined with the political upheaval in Egypt. Gaza Sinai Size 139 sq. mi. (360 sq. km) 23,000 sq. mi. (61,100 sq. km.) Population 1.76 million1 600,000 (estimate) Gaza – Brief Description The Gaza Strip is a Palestinian enclave bordered on its south by Egypt, north and east by Israel and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza would be part of the future Palestinian state envisioned by the Oslo peace process. However, the Hamas terror organization that is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood con- trols Gaza and rejects the concept of peace with Israel. Despite repeated reconciliation efforts, Hamas and Gaza remain estranged from the mainstream Fatah movement that controls the West Bank. 1 Updated: July 16, 2013
  3. 3. 2 History: The Egyptians and Ottomans battled each other for control of Gaza until the British conquest in World War 1. Britain ruled Gaza until it was captured by Egypt in the 1948 war. Taken in the 1967 war, Isra- el ruled over Gaza until administration was handed to the Palestinian Authority in 1994. The Sharon gov- ernment decided to fully withdraw from Gaza in 2003 - which was implemented in 2005. Two years later Hamas seized power in a military coup and has since ruled Gaza in single-party authoritarian rule. Gaza terrorism: Since 2001, terrorists in Gaza have fired some 15,000 rockets and mortars at Israeli tar- gets. Last year for the first time rockets from Gaza were fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, putting 3.5 million Israelis at risk. Armed groups have regularly attacked the Gaza-Israel border with guns, mortars and IEDs. Population: 1.76 million, including Palestinians dis- placed in the 1948 war and their offspring. Terrorist Groups: While Hamas is the dominant power in Gaza, it allows many other heavily-armed terrorist organizations to operate.2 The main groups include: • Hamas – the Islamic fundamentalist group that is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas ideology rejects peace with Israel and embraces armed conflict. It is responsible for explicitly targeting civilians in hundreds of terrorist attacks includ- ing bombings, shootings and thousands of rocket attacks. • Palestinian Islamic Jihad – founded in the late 1970s by Muslim Brotherhood mem- bers, the terror group has carried out car bombings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks that killed and wounded hundreds. • Popular Resistance Committees – a coalition of Palestinian factions created by disgruntled Fatah and Tanzim members who reject Fatah peace negotiations with Israel. • Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) – a small terror group based on the Doghmush family clan, but responsible for significant kidnappings including that of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. • Jahafil Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad fi Filastin (Armies of Monotheism and Jihad in Pales- tine) – a Sunni jihadist group allied with al-Qaeda that has been in operation since at least 2006, carrying out attacks both against Israel and Egypt. Key Flashpoints: Gaza terrorist groups have made it a business to operate hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border and often shoot at the Gaza-Israel border crossings to halt goods being transferred from Israel. Terrorists from Gaza have also infiltrated the northern Sinai Penin- sula and are suspected of participating in numerous attacks against Egyptian forces.
  4. 4. 3 Sinai – Brief Description Terrorism in Egypt predates the establishment of the modern republic, with numerous Islamist groups chal- lenging the influence of Western culture over the state’s laws and society. In facing this threat, the Egyptian government has waged a long and often ugly battle against groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and al-Gamaa al-Islamiya. Those groups were most active in the 1970s through the 1990s, and mainly in Egypt’s largest cities. A new pattern emerged in the 2000s, with groups carrying out attacks against domestic targets in Sinai, and launching attacks against Israel from the area along the border with the Jewish state. The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is a mostly desert area three times the size of Israel. It is bordered on the west by the Suez Canal and on the east by Israel, the Gaza Strip and the Red Sea. Sparsely populated before the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the Sinai population ballooned as Egypt promoted tourism on the southern coast of the peninsula. The initial terror attack against Israelis in 19853 expanded and escalated over the years to include attacks on Egyptian tourist sites4 5 and Egyptian military6 and government targets as well. To combat increased terrorism as well as refugee smuggling, Israel built a security fence along the entire length of its border with Egypt. According to the U.S. State Department:7 “Egypt’s Northern Sinai region remained a transit route for smuggling arms and explosives into Gaza, as well as a base and transit point for Palestinian violent ex- tremists. The smuggling of humans, weapons, cash, and other contraband through the Sinai into Israel and Gaza supported criminal networks with possible ties to terrorist groups in the region.” History: In recent history, the Ottoman Empire con- trolled the Sinai Peninsula until the beginning of the 20th century when Britain took control of the region until the end of World War II. Egypt controlled the Sinai and in 1958 took control of Gaza as well. Isra- el captured the Sinai and Gaza in the 1967 Arab-Is- raeli war, returning the Sinai to Egyptian control following their peace treaty in 1979. Population: Not including the heavily populated areas along the Suez Canal region, there are about 600,0008 residents of the Sinai. From 49,7699 in the 1960 Egyptian census, the population swelled to 199,764 in the 1986 census10 . There are 30 major Bedouin tribes in North and South Sinai. North Sinai is one of the poorest Egyptian governorates, with a population of approximately 350,000.11 Terrorist Groups: Numerous terrorist organiza- tions have set up operations in the Sinai, owing to its remoteness and long, porous shorelines. There are dozens of groups scattered across the large peninsula that include al-Qaeda branches from Iran and Yemen, World Jihad, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Gaza-based groups such as Hamas.12 The major terror groups include:
  5. 5. 4 • Ansar Bayit al Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) - Also known as Ansar Jerusalem. Considered to be the most active terrorist group in Sinai.13 Consists of local Bedouin and recruits members from all over the Middle East and North Africa. Inspired by al-Qaeda, the group has taken credit for numerous attacks against Israel and Egypt. • Hamas – As well as controlling Gaza, Hamas operates or licenses hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border that it uses to import weapons including thousands of rockets. Hamas maintains operatives in Sinai to handle logistics for the smuggling, and is also accused by Egypt of participating in terrorist activity against Egyptian targets. • Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam) - the same group run by the Doghmush clan in Gaza is known to be active in mainland Egypt. The Egyptian government accused it of carrying out the 2011 Coptic Church bombing in Alexandria that killed 23.14 • Tafkir Wal Hijra (Anathema and Exile) - Tafkir Wal Hijra is a radical Salafist group founded in 1969 and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is believed to hold weekly meetings at mosques in the Sinai border town of Rafah. The group is suspected of being behind the August 2012 attack where terror- ists killed 15 Egyptian officers, blew open the border fence and were killed by the IDF as they headed towards an Israeli town in a stolen Egyptian APC. • Tawhid al Jihad15 (Monotheism and Holy War) - Similar to Jaysh al Islam, Tawhid al Jihad is another organization from Gaza active in Sinai and was involved in attacks and kidnappings including the 2005 Sharm el Sheikh bombing and the kidnap and murder of the Italian journalist Vittorio Arrigoni in 2011. The group wants to establish an Islamic emirate in the Sinai. • Mujahedeen Council of Shura in Environs of Jerusalem - regards itself as a coordinator between several Gaza/Sinai jihadist groups including Tawhid al Jihad and the Gaza group Ansar al Sunnah. It opposes the peace treaty with Israel and targets Israeli positions but denied involvement in the August 2012 attack. • Jund al Sharia (Soldiers of Islamic Law) – a new group that demands the introduction of Islamic law into Egypt, release of all Islamic prisoners and withdrawal of the international peacekeeping forces from Sinai. • Ansar al Jihad (Supporters of Jihad) pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al Zawahi- ri.16 Key Flashpoints: Terrorists in the Sinai have repeatedly attacked the following targets: • Tourist sites on the Gulf of Aqaba coast • Egyptian and Israeli targets in the Israel-Gaza border area • Egyptian government and military targets from Rafah to El Arish. • They fired rockets at the Israeli resort port city of Eilat and targets near Gaza.
  6. 6. 5 Landmark Terrorist Events: The following were some of the major terror attacks in the Sinai. October 1985 Egyptian soldier kills seven Israeli tourists including four children at Ras Burqa. October 2004 Truck bombing of Hilton Hotel in Taba kills 34 and leaves scores wounded. Two other bombs at locations 30 miles south of Taba kill three and wound dozens more. July 2005 Tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai hit by a series of bombs killing 88 people, mostly Egyptians, but also foreign tourists from six countries. April 2006 Multiple explosions hit vacation resort Dahab killing 23 Egyptians and tourists from 10 countries and wounding 80. August 2010 Terrorists fire at least seven rockets. Three explode in Eilat, two explode in neighboring Aqaba, Jordan killing one person and wounding four, one fell into the sea and the other exploded in Egypt with no reported damage. 2011 The Sinai natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan was bombed and sabotaged more than 12 times, cutting supplies and forcing the Egyptian gas company to eventually cancel its supply contract with Israel. The pipeline was bombed again in July, 2013, cutting the flow of gas to Jordan. August 2011 Terrorists infiltrate the Sinai-Israel border and open fire, killing eight Israelis including vacationing civilians driving on the local highway. August 2012 Terrorists attack an Egyptian police compound, killing 16 security officers. They steal two APCs and continue their attack across the Israeli border where they are intercepted and killed by Israeli forces. Both Israel and the U.S. issue travel warnings for their nationals to leave Sinai. The American state- ment says “the danger of overland travel in the Sinai is significant.” April 2013 Three rockets fired from Sinai. One explodes in Eilat and two in Aqaba. No injuries reported. Latest Developments: July 10, 2013 Gunmen open fire on General Ahmed Wasfy, commander of Egyptian forces in Sinai. Wasfy escapes the assassinate attempt, but a girl dies after being caught in the crossfire.17 July 11, 2013 In a major security sweep, Egyptian forces clashed with hundreds of terrorists including fighters from Gaza. Dozens of Hamas gunmen were reportedly killed or captured.18 “We have detected movements of Hamas activists cooperating with jihadists in Sinai. We killed and arrested some of them,” an Egyptian security source says. “They enter Sinai through the [smuggling] tunnels to carry out attacks, along with others, and then return to Gaza through the tunnels.” July 11, 2013 Israel is apparently agreeing to an Egyptian request to add troops and equipment to battle terrorists in the Sinai. Although the forces are apparently beyond those allowed under the peace treaty an Israeli army official says “We consider securing Sinai a top priority and have no wish to tie the hands of the Egyptian Army against clearing the area of dangerous terrorists.”19
  7. 7. 6 July 4-11 2013 Attacks in Sinai increase dramatically following the ouster of Egypt’s President Morsi.20 Scores of incidents leave at least 13 Egyptians dead including soldiers and two Christians.21 2223 Reports indicate at least 150 jihadists move from Gaza to Sinai to help in attacks against Egyptian government forces and targets.24 July 14, 2013 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We maintain … formal contacts with the Egyptian government throughout the last two years, and including now. And the important thing from our point of view is not merely to maintain the peace but also stabilize the Sinai Peninsula, which is Egyptian territory that is adjacent to our southern border, the Negev. It’s been fraying there. There are a lot of terrorists. There are jihadists. There’s Al Qaeda, Hamas, you name it. They’re all over the place. Our concern is to prevent attacks against our territory and against our city, our southern city of Eilat. We’ve been doing that and will continue to do that. So our main concern in our contacts with the Egyptian government is to make sure that the peace is preserved and that terror is prevented.”25 (Endnotes) 1 2 1IL20110415 3 4 5 6 7 8 tile-ground-for-disconte.aspx 9 10 11 Ibid. 12 13 gence-sources/ 14 tack-findings 15 Al-Tawhid Wa Al-Jihad 16 php 17 tary-commanders-car-in-Sin.aspx 18,7340,L-4403706,00.html 19 20 21 22 christian.ashx#axzz2YjLXUYbR 23 BRE96E00J20130715 24,7340,L-4402384,00.html 25 merman-verdict-netanyahu-kelly-diaz-balart-and-durbin/?pageNum=3