January 17, 2012
TSG Atmospheric: Al-Qa’ida in the Sinai Peninsula
Intelligence indicates that Al-Qa'ida (AQ) may be trying to establish itself in the North Sinai, a governorate of Egypt located in the northern portion of the Sinai Peninsula, from where it might seek to exploit the fragility of internal politics in Egypt and, in doing so, destabilize the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
If this proves to be the case - and a full-fledged al-Qa'ida in the Sinai Peninsula (AQSP) is about to emerge - then we judge there could be a substantial regional impact of political, military, economic, and diplomatic import.
The consequences of such a turn of events would include an inescapable increase in tensions between the U.S., Egypt and Israel, as well as a significant increase in the regional security threat to westerners, including tourists, expatriates, and those working in the oil sector (amongst which the U.S. oil company Apache is a major player).
Given that the next Egyptian government will consist of a significant proportion of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist Members of Parliament, there are well-founded concerns that their political ideals may have a closer empathy than its secular predecessor with the aims and objectives of Islamic extremists.
This, is turn, may negative affect the desire of external entities to contemplate Foreign Direct Investment in Egypt, which will exacerbate the current poor economic circumstances and may undermine the economic rationale for U.S. companies to invest, and establish or maintain a presence, in Egypt. Our assessment is set against this context.
The starting point of our analysis is 18 August 2011, when at 1200 hrs, in an a launched from the Sinai Peninsula near Eilat, Israel, 12 extremists assaulted two civilian buses, Israeli military vehicles and personnel, resulting in the deaths of six civilians and two Israeli soldiers.
The attackers tunneled into the Sinai from Gaza, and then travelled down the Peninsula and entered Israel. The attack reflected sophistication in both planning and execution, employing roadside improvised explosive devices (IED), automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades (RPG), and suicide belts.
Although these are the signature weapons of many terrorist groups, the tactics, efficiency and coordination of the attacks in August led us to examine the group more closely.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) responded by targeting the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which denied their active involvement in the attacks, but nonetheless praised them.
The actions of the IDF indicate that they feel this is where the balance of responsibility lies for the attacks. However, analysis indicates the IDF response may simply have been to retaliate against a well-known target to reassure theIsraeli public that firm action was being taken. The reality, however, is somewhat different.
According to our Egyptian sources, the assault was not the work of the PRC; rather, it was believed to have been carried out by a group of Bedouin (Bedu) from the Sawarkah tribe, which controls a triangle of territory in the Northern Sinai, roughly bounded by the Egyptian-Gaza border, the Mediterranean Sea, and the northern edge of Al-Arish.
Four of the attackers used suicide vests, which makes this attack the first known example of Sinai Bedu taking part in a martyrdom operation. The Bedu are not normally the most religious of groups, and therefore - if true - this again underlines the potential radicalization that may have taken place, and which poses a significant threat to the security of the region.
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