"The Handle on Sinai"
I had hoped -- deeply hoped -- to be able to turn my attention to matters other than the situation in the Sinai. But the news there has loomed so large and seemed so ominous, that it merits on-going attention. And so, once again, I begin with this subject.
This time, however, I believe I will be able to provide a bit more clarity about what's happening.
The news has been utterly confounding and filled with contradictions: Tanks have been brought in by the Egyptians to combat the jihadists with the permission of Israel; Israel did not give permission. The Egyptian Defense Minister al-Sisi called Israeli Defense Minister Barak and the two came to an understanding; there was no such phone call.
And, most recently: An Egyptian general came into the Sinai to negotiate with the jihadists and the efforts to take out the terrorists is over; Egyptians say they are continuing their efforts against the terrorists.
The information I have now secured is from a most reliable source -- an Arabic-speaking and very savvy Israeli academic with multiple connections. He is in no way an apologist for the Egyptians. This is what he explained:
The jihadist terrorists are hiding in caves in the mountains (I have written about this) and thus tanks are worthless against them. What is needed are infantry combat units and helicopters to bring them up to the mountain tops.
The tanks were brought in as a PR ploy, to show the Egyptian people the army is tough and doesn't need to abide by Israeli demands. The intent here, however, is not to set up a situation that leads to war with Israel -- my source does not anticipate that Egypt will go to war with Israel, either in the short range, or even the "medium range" future. Rather, says my source, the Egyptian government is attempting to counter or deflate the demands of those who call for breaking the peace treaty with Israel.
One might argue that bringing in the tanks has broken the treaty. And technically, this would be the case if Israel had not approved the move. But the intent here apparently was not to break it in all its parameters but, quite the contrary, to enable it to be saved. The bravado was for internal consumption.
At the end of the day, will the tanks remain? This I cannot say. Might the situation shift so that the tanks would be drawn upon in a limited military action? I have no crystal ball and so can not definitively rule this out. But what I can report is that a source I consider highly reliable has told me that it is not the intention of the Egyptian government to break the peace treaty and move towards war with Israel.
There is little that the Israelis would be able to do overtly with regard to this situation except to break the peace treaty themselves by going into the Sinai after them; this is not in Israel's best interest now. (This would be to invite war on Israel at a time that we must contend with Iran, and when, apparently, Egypt is not gearing up for attack.) And so Israel has, essentially, agreed to the current situation.
There is still hope that the Americans might apply pressure on Egypt by threatening to reduce financial assistance. It has been my understanding that the US would be reluctant to cut back on what is given to Egypt, and not only because of Obama's sympathies: As is the case with Israel, most of the financial aid given to Egypt by the US is for military equipment that must be purchased in the US. In essence, the money does a U-turn and ends up again in US coffers.
My source, however, said otherwise: there is a percentage of the funds provided to Egypt that can remain in the country and be utilized for such things as buying grain. For Egypt, struggling with overwhelming poverty, this matters. And he has picked up in the Egyptian press a good deal of unease because of comments in this regard coming from Congress (which controls the purse strings).
In the meantime, the negotiations being held are not with the terrorists, but with the Bedouin who give them asylum: they live in the area around the caves, and protect the jihadists.
One of the problems here is that there are several tribes and each one must be negotiated with separately. There have to be written agreements with each, with generous "perks" provided in all instances.
The goal in dealing with the Bedouin might be to get them to give up the jihadists -- allow the army to reach them in the caves. Or, it might be to get the Bedouin to tell the jihadists that they -- the Bedouin --will continue to provide them with protection only if they remain quiet.
And here's the catch for Israel: "quiet" would simply mean leaving the Egyptian army alone. If that were achieved the Egyptians would consider they had achieved their goal. Remember, they had started their operation against the terrorists only when Egyptian soldiers were hit. Were the terrorists to continue to cross the border into Israel, this would not unduly concern the Egyptian army.
In any event, it is far less than a sure thing that the negotiations with these Bedouin tribes will succeed. Says my source, "Agreements with these tribes are written on ice in the desert."
What is more, the jihadists are more highly motivated than the Egyptian army.
The harsh reality then is that we will benefit only if the Egyptian army is successful in removing the jihadists -- and this is a very "iffy" prospect. There is a greater likelihood, I suspect, that whatever the Egyptian army manages to do in the Sinai, we will be as vulnerable to terrorist attack as ever.
As our leaders often make a point of saying, we must depend only upon ourselves. We must sustain vigilance with regard to securing critical intelligence, continue to work on the fence at the Sinai border, and otherwise guard that border with patrols, etc.
But as to the Egyptian army, the information I've secured makes the situation seem considerably less ominous -- we are apparently not at substantial risk of an attack across the border by the Egyptians.
As if there is not enough on our plates with the situation in neighboring states, we have to contend as well with an outrageous situation within Israel. (And yes, what I am about to describe here I consider to be within Israel.)
The issue "du jour" is the Jewish community of Migron. Referred to as an "unauthorized outpost," it is situated on high ground in Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, in the Shomron (Samaria), 14 kilometers (some 8 miles) north of Jerusalem. It is home to 50 families.