Egyptian attack helicopters are once again patrolling the Sinai’s lonely skies – at least for the time being – for the first time since 1973. Following the attack on an Egyptian guard station by bands of Islamist fighters in the Suwarka Bedouin lands, approximately 20 kilometers from Israel’s southern border, Egypt has been moving heavy military equipment into Sinai. The Egyptian government has allowed groups of terrorists to thrive since the fall of Mubarak, a policy that has, perhaps come back to bite them.
Alternatively, this has been a clever ruse by Egypt to get its military force back into Sinai, contravening the !973 Peace Accord with Israel, which prohibited an Egyptian military presence in Sinai. It also puts Israel at greater risk, should the new Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi decide to abrogate the treaty, as now seems likely. With no peace treaty between the two countries, a sizable Egyptian military force on Israel’s southern border will present a considerable threat from a pincer attack by Egypt in Sinai, Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
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Israel to revamp intel-gathering process in Sinai
Who is responsible for gathering intelligence on terrorist organizations in the Sinai Peninsula? This question is raging within Israel’s intelligence community and the government is expected to rule on it in the coming weeks.
Israel has three primary intelligence agencies: Military Intelligence in the IDF, responsible for gathering intelligence for military purposes such as creating targets; the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), responsible for the Palestinian territories; and the Mossad, responsible for overseas intelligence gathering.
For decades, since a peace deal was signed with Egypt, the defense establishment cut back on its intelligence-gathering efforts there – although it continued to keep an eye on Cairo, mainly in regard to military maneuvers and procurement.
Now, however, with the upsurge in terrorist activity in the Sinai, there is a renewed discussion and power struggle over the question of which agency is responsible for the area.
At the heart of the issue is more than simple prestige, since the agency eventually assigned the task will likely see a major boost to its budget to build up the necessary capabilities.
For years, a similar struggle took place between Military Intelligence and the Mossad over Iran and its nuclear program.
The Mossad – which was ultimately tapped by former prime minister Ariel Sharon with the task of leading Israeli intelligence efforts vis-à-vis Iran – saw its annual budget grow by close to half a billion dollars in 2007.
There appear to be strong arguments for both Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet.
The Shin Bet claims, for example, that the terrorist infrastructure being established in Sinai is mostly linked to Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, Military Intelligence argues that Sinai is outside of Israel’s borders and that the terrorist infrastructure there is not always connected to the known terror groups in Gaza.
In contrast to Gaza, where Israel faces a number of organized and structured terror groups, in Sinai there are groups of people who are connected by a similar ideology, but usually join together as needed to perpetrate attacks.
The terrorists who carried out the attack on Sunday night are also believed to have been local Beduin from Sinai, as was the case in the cross-border attack last August near the Netafim Crossing that killed eight Israelis.