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Updated: August 9, 2012 02:24 IST

Libya’s shadow over Sinai violence

Atul Aneja
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Launching attacks on militants from the air, land and sea, Egyptian forces have brought into sharper focus the terms of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and the clandestine flow of weaponry into the country from Libya after the fall of Muammar Qadhafi.

Egyptian troops are now using helicopter gunships and fighter jets to attack suspected militant strongholds in the tough barren terrain of the strategic Sinai Peninsula that borders the Gaza strip and Israel.

The heavy Egyptian assault has already killed 20 anti-government fighters operating from Sinai. Sunday’s late night attack at a border checkpoint with Israel is testing the political will and competence of the new post-Mubarak government in Egypt, headed by President Mohamed Morsy.

On Wednesday Mr. Morsy sacked the North Sinai governor and appointed a new intelligence chief.

After attacking the post on Sunday, the attackers had driven their vehicles, including a captured armoured vehicle, through a security fence into Israeli territory.


However, their assault was quickly thwarted by an Israeli airstrike. Eight militants — whose charred body parts have been handed over to Egyptian authorities — were killed in the Israeli aerial attack.

The killing of the soldiers and the light security cover provided by Egyptian authorities in Sinai has angered residents, many of whom have been quick to blame the current Egyptian government for the prevailing insecurity. However, the Muslim Brotherhood — Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation — seems to be deflecting attention by alleging that Sunday’s attack “can be attributed to Mossad [the Israeli external intelligence], which has been seeking to abort the revolution since inception”.

Analysts point out that the large inflow of weapons into Sinai from Libya, where state authority has weakened substantially after the fall of Qadhafi, has sharply heightened violence. Al Arabiya television station, quoting local residents is reporting on its website that weapons are entering Sinai from three places: Libya, Sudan, and Gaza.

Apparently arms such as Grinov machine guns; anti-aircraft missiles 3.7 and 4.5 inches; and RPGs are pouring in from Libya; but smuggling gangs are pushing M16 rifles and a variety of less potent machine guns from Sudan and Gaza.

Sunday’s incident has already triggered calls for changes in the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which resulted from the famed Camp David accords.

The Muslim Brotherhood statement pointed out that the attack “draws our attention to the fact that our forces in the Sinai lack the personnel and the equipment to protect the region or guard our borders, which makes it imperative to review the terms of our accords with Israel”.

Under the terms of the Israel-Egypt peace accord, Egypt can maintain only a limited number of troops in Sinai.

Border controls

Mr. Morsy is also signalling his readiness to relax border controls with Gaza — this was apparently one of the topics of discussion during a recent meeting in Cairo between the President and senior leaders of Hamas.

Israel is clearly unhappy with Egypt’s increasingly cosy relationship with Hamas, which also has Muslim Brotherhood roots.

Israel’s defence minister Ehud Barak has been quick to point out that Sunday’s incident should serve as a “wakeup call for Egypt regarding the necessity to be sharp and efficient on their side”.

Egypt’s ties with Israel have also been strained by the 15 attacks, since Mr. Mubarak’s fall, on a natural gas pipeline that feeds Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan.

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