KISSUFIM (Israel): The growing wave of lawlessness sweeping the Sinai Peninsula has put Israel on edge, with the Jewish state hoping Egypt’s new government will ensure a swift crackdown — whatever the outcome of the presidential elections.
For Israel, its 240-kilometre southern border with Sinai poses two major threats — it is both a key conduit for a growing influx of African migrants, and also an appealing target for militant groups.
“The Egyptian issue is far more disturbing than the Iranian question,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month.
Some 15 months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the arid and mountainous peninsula, which covers approximately 60,000 square kilometres, is still largely beyond the control of Egyptian security forces.
“The Sinai has become Egypt's Wild West, a lawless region. Bedouin tribes run the peninsula as if it belongs to them,” said an Israeli security source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Under terms of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the area was demilitarised, but today the peninsula is anything but.
Near the northern desert town of El-Arish, a gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan has been sabotaged no less than 14 times since Mubarak's fall in February 2011.
No-one has claimed responsibility for the series of attacks but Israeli security officials suspect the bombings were carried out by radicalised Bedouins, or those with growing ties to extremist Islamic organisations.
They say armed Palestinian groups in the neighbouring Gaza Strip are seeking to open a new front against Israel through the Sinai.
“The Sinai peninsula has become a launching pad for terror against our citizens,” Netanyahu said last month after a cross-border rocket attack on Israel's Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Officials within Israel's military intelligence believe the rockets came from the arsenal of slain Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi.
They say thousands of Libyan rockets and anti-aircraft missiles have reached Gaza through the Sinai desert.—AFP