THE BLOG

Egypt, Israel and ISIS

The Sinai peninsula was supposed to be a zone of peace, ever since the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which has long been a linchpin of regional stability. In fact, the region fulfilled expectations for most of the last 35 years, but no more. Ever since the downfall of the Mubarak regime and the reemergence of the Muslim Brotherhood on the scene, particularly the ill-fated short presidential term of Mohammed Morsi, the region has become a zone of war. Yesterday's events in Sheikh Zuweid in Northern Sinai brought the situation to a head, and with it, to a point of no return.

With scores of dead Egyptian soldiers, and in the aftermath of the assassination of the State Attorney General, President Al-Sisi is left with no choice. He declared an all-out war against the Jihadists; he will pursue it to the end and he and Egypt will win. The terrorists and those who pull the strings and send them to sow death and destruction will pay the ultimate price, and it will be in blood, a lot of it.

First, some necessary background. The organization behind the attack is called "Ansar Bayit al Makdas," the Guardians of the Temple, a strange name to an Islamic Jihadist organization, as they simply translate to Arabic the Hebrew name of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which the Jihadists claim has always been only Muslim. Second, the organization declared its loyalty to ISIS, and here it is important to explain that many Jihadist movements, including outside of the Middle East, give the pledge of allegiance to ISIS not necessarily being under its strict, direct command, but more out of admiration for their achievements and dedication, much the same as many of these groups pledged their allegiance to Al-Qa'ida after 9/11. Third, in the case of the Sinai Jihadists, their immediate loyalty is to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt, and to the Palestinian section of the Brotherhood, AKA Hamas in Gaza.

The Egyptians are the ones who know it better than others, hence their announcements since yesterday pointing in the direction of the MB and Hamas as being responsible, the threat to go ahead with the execution of Morsi and other MB leaders and the partial siege on Gaza. Go and explain simple facts of life to the flotilla crowd, these fanatic anti-Israel and anti-peace activists who are engaged in playing games on the high seas of the Mediterranean.

Dealing with terrorism emanating from Gaza and what is left of the MB chain of command in Egypt is no game at all, and President Al-Sisi knows it and so do the Israelis, the Saudis and others. The Israeli connection here is of great importance. The Jihadists, who have no qualms about killing Muslims, will not hesitate to attack targets in Israel -- Eilat in the South, for example. The IDF is already taking precautions, but the bitter lesson of the past is that the Jihadists usually strike first, and only then do they get their due in retaliation. Jordan and Saudi Arabia should also be on the alert on this front, and according to some reports, the Saudis sent attack helicopters to support the Egyptian Air Force in Sinai. The Egyptians will not ask Israel to interfere directly in the Sinai fighting, surely not on the Egyptian side of the border, but they may encourage an Israeli campaign in Gaza should Hamas continue to cause provocations there. The likelihood of that happening is not high, but never say never in the Middle East. Hamas may be aware of such a scenario, and they must be worried about the lack of any worldwide and Arab interest in the pathetic "freedom Flotilla" of few days ago. There are talks about Hamas looking for a long-term cease fire arrangement with Israel (Hudna in Arabic); not a bad idea, but Israel will not enter any deal, whether formal or informal, while Hamas and the MB continue to terrorize Egypt. PM Netanyahu just declared that Israel stands shoulder to shoulder with Egypt against ISIS. He said ISIS, but meant Hamas.

Beyond the immediate question of dealing with the threat in Sinai, the greater story really is the growing cooperation between Israel and Egypt. This is a potentially significant story, because it is Egypt, the largest and strongest Arab country. It is significant, because it enables Israel to become an actor within the inter-Arab Middle East regional power game -- something that can encourage other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, not a minor player in this game. This is one very likely direction, but it still is not Israel's Shangri La in the Middle East. President Al-Sisi, the Saudis, Jordanians and others will be happy to be assisted by Israel in ways of their choosing, but the fuller realization of Israel's stabilizing role will come ONLY with real progress with the Palestinian Authority (PA). A challenge for Israel, but also for these Arab countries, the PA and also those in the West who are really interested in peace.