As Egypt prepares to face the growing ISIL threat in Libya it is withdrawing some special operations forces from Sinai. Israel fears this will reduce the pressure the Egyptians have exerted on Sinai based Islamic terrorists. Israel has been impressed with the Egyptian counter-terror campaign in Sinai, which has, for the moment, eliminated the threat of Islamic terrorist attacks on Israel from Sinai. Egypt recently reported that 172 Islamic terrorists had been killed in Sinai during February. Another 229 suspects were arrested and 85 Islamic terrorist locations were raided. All this activity was in reaction to January 29th when ISIL made four attacks in Sinai that left at 33 dead and 90 wounded. Most of the victims were soldiers and police. In part these attacks were to show that the Islamic terrorists were still present and dangerous. But not as dangerous as the used to be or could have been, The 18 month old Egyptian counter-terrorism campaign in Sinai has left over 1,500 Islamic terrorists dead and several thousand arrested. About 500 soldiers and police have died as well.. This has prevented these Islamic terrorist groups from taking their violence into the rest of Egypt and gradually diminished the terrorist violence in Sinai. The Islamic terrorists claim victory because some of them have survived all this mayhem and continue to kill. At the same time the Islamic terrorists in Sinai are not associated with the Moslem Brotherhood that dominates the rest of Egypt. Indeed the Sinai Islamic terrorists look down on the Moslem Brotherhood as a bunch of wimps. The Sinai groups are more into the old-school, hard-core al Qaeda/ISIL approach. The Sinai crowd wants open warfare with Egypt and Islamic religious dictatorship for Egypt and eventually the world.
Israel does not believe Egypt will abandon Sinai but by taking the special operations troops out the counter-terror effort will be less effective and the less experienced troops and police left in Sinai will suffer heavier casualties. The Egyptians feel they have no choice because it ISIL wants to send Islamic terrorists into Egypt the thousand kilometer long Libyan border is easily crossed. Fortunately anyone sneaking across still has several hundred kilometers of desert to cross and that area has few roads. But it takes a lot of troops to lock all that down and for the moment the Libyan border has a higher priority than Sinai.
Over 30,000 Egyptians have left Libya in the last two weeks to escape the growing Islamic terrorist violence. This flight was triggered by a February 15th ISIL video showing 20 Egyptian Christians (Copts) being beheaded on a Libyan beach. Many Egyptians still work in Libya doing jobs Libyans will not or cannot do and being paid for with oil income. Before the 2011 revolution about a million Egyptians worked in Libya. But the growing chaos in Libya has sharply cut oil production and many Egyptians are returning because they are losing their jobs or not getting paid. Since mid-February Egypt has declared war on ISIL but has not carried out any more air strikes against ISIL targets in Libya since mid-February. It does appear that Egypt is preparing for another round of attacks.
In Egypt (northern Sinai) over a hundred Copts (Christians) have fled the area after they received threats from Islamic terror groups. There are still about 200 Copts living in northern Sinai.
With Hamas now outlawed in Egypt the security on the Gaza border has become even tighter. This includes increased efforts to find and destroy smuggling tunnels and halt any illegal border crossings.
Egypt is still on bad terms with Qatar, whose monarch finances the al Jazeera satellite news network and supported the ousted Moslem Brotherhood government. Egypt also accuses Qatar of supporting Islamic terrorists in Libya and Hamas in Gaza. Now Qatar has recalled its ambassador from Egypt over the escalating dispute. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) support the new military government in Egypt but want laws passed to help protect the billions of dollars in investment Gulf state investors are willing to make in Egypt.
The Egyptian war against the Moslem Brotherhood has done a lot of damage to this nationwide organization. The Brotherhood owned a lot of businesses and social welfare organizations and these have largely been seized or shut down. Yet the Brotherhood continues to survive, mainly because the Brotherhood was intent on doing something about the corruption and government inefficiency. Unfortunately, the Brotherhood has an extremist wing that always demands extremist solutions and that always causes problems with the government and most Egyptians.
On the Syrian border Israel is working more with Syrian rebels (except ISIL) to help stop Iran from establishing a presence in the area so they can launch attacks into Israel. Iranians have been bragging about doing this and Iran has sent more senior officers to work with Hezbollah and the Syrian Army efforts to clear all the rebels away from the Israeli border. Iran is also bringing in thousands of additional Iranian volunteers to join rebel militias in the fight against the rebels. Naturally the rebels oppose this Iranian effort and now see Israel as an ally. Israel has provided support for the rebels with the understanding that the rebels would not attack Israel and would help prevent anyone else from doing so. Thus Israel stays in contact with the Syrian rebels across its border, provides medical treatment (for over 2,000 rebels and civilians so far) and attacks Hezbollah and Syrian Army targets when there is any fire into Israel from the Syrian side. The rebels often provide Israel with data on where hidden Syrian Army or Hezbollah units are, providing Israeli warplanes and artillery with precise and conformed targets. While some of these “cooperative rebels” are Islamic radicals and will eventually turn on Israel if given a chance, for the moment the policy is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The U.S. and Israel are divided by what the Israelis see as an American effort to reduce pressure on Iran over the Iranian nuclear program in return for more cooperation in defeating ISIL. The Arab countries openly back Israel in this dispute and fear America might leave them at the mercy of a nuclear-armed Iran.
March 5, 2015: The Palestinian government (PLO) in the West Bank has decided to stop security cooperation with Israel. This is in response to Israel withholding tax payments. That was in response to the PLO trying to join the ICC (International Criminal Court) so that it could better agitate for prosecuting Israel for war crimes (basically anything Israel does to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism). The withholding of $127 million a month makes it impossible to pay the many PLO civil servants. It’s these thousands of jobs that keeps the PLO in business because otherwise Palestinians regard the PLO leadership as corrupt and inefficient.
In Gaza Israel has documented Hamas impeding rebuilding (damage from the 2014 50 Day War) by buying or seizing cement and other building materials meant for rebuilding homes and businesses and instead using it to rebuild military installations (tunnels and bunkers) and building more rockets. These are seen regularly being test fired out into the Mediterranean. Even the aid groups there have seen all this diversion of resources and complained about it. Hamas ignores the complaints and continues preparing for another war despite the fact that these complaints mean a lot of groups who pledged rebuilding money are refusing to deliver until assured that the cash will be used for rebuilding.
March 3, 2015: In Egypt (Cairo) three bombs went off. One of the explosions was outside a court building and that killed two people. The other explosions caused no casualties. There were a similar series of small bomb attacks on February 26 that left one person dead. All these bombs were crudely made and may have all come from one radical group that does not have access to powerful explosives or an expert bomb builder.
An Egyptian court ordered members of Hamas arrested and Hamas assets seized. This comes a week after Egypt declared Hamas a terrorist organization. Hamas called on other Arab states to protest and attempt to reverse what Egypt was doing. For the moment that isn’t happening. Another court suspended the March 22 parliamentary elections until arguments over how election districts will be set up can be settled. Egypt has not had a functioning parliament since 2012 when a court shut it down after deciding that a third of the members were elected illegally. The new government comes from the same wealthy and military families that supported the decades old Mubarak dictatorship and they are apparently trying to figure out how to get a compliant (or at least not too troublesome) parliament without too obviously rigging the vote (and creating an embarrassing worldwide media mess.)
March 2, 2015: Israel claims that Syria has transferred some long range (700 kilometers) SCUD ballistic missiles to Hezbollah. These missiles carry a half ton high-explosive warhead. These SCUDs are actually North Korean variants on the original Russian SCUD that have a smaller warhead to enable longer range. Syria is giving them to Hezbollah to free up troops who have been guarding them and to avoid the risk of them getting captured. Israel has an anti-missile defense system that can stop these Scuds, as well as the other long range (about 200 kilometers) rockets Hezbollah has received from Iran and Syria.
March 1, 2015: In Egypt (Aswan) a bomb went off near a police station killing two people and wounding five, including a policeman. Aswan is a tourist area in the south and this is the first such attack since 2013.
Israel announced the arrest of three Israeli Jews who were paid $375,000 by a Palestinian smuggling gang to illegally get $30 million worth of prohibited items (structural steel, some electronics and other goods) into Gaza by having them hidden in shipments of legitimate goods. The three Israelis owned companies that supplied legal items to Gaza. Six Palestinians from Gaza are also sought but they are unlikely to leave Gaza for anywhere Israel could arrest them.
February 26, 2015: Egypt and France signed a $5.75 billion deal to buy French weapons, many of them to be assembled in Egypt. This includes 24 Rafale jet fighters. France is financing (loaning the money) for over 60 percent of all this.
February 25, 2015: President Sisi of Egypt has granted new powers to the security forces when their work involves Islamic terrorists. This gives the security forces wide and unhindered authority to declare a group “terrorists” and then easily arrest and keep in custody members of these groups. Many Egyptians fear these new powers will be abused and include anyone who opposes the government. Also worrying is the inability of the courts to convict any of the Mubarak era officials of corruption and to reverse convictions obtained before the military coup in 2012. At the same time courts have been sentencing pro-democracy activists to jail for holding demonstrations or simply backing such activities with Internet posts.
February 23, 2015: The Israeli Electric company cut power to two West Bank towns for 45 minutes in an effort to persuade the Palestinian energy companies that get the electric power and then sell it to Palestinians to pay nearly half a billion dollars they owe for power already received.
February 20, 2015: Tourism income continues to increase. In December 2014 there were 786,000 foreign tourists, a 15 percent increase over December 2013.