Egypt Is Losing the Fight Against Islamist Violence / Another attack near the Israeli border comes after many unheeded warnings (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED) By DANIEL NISMAN 08/07/12)
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Leaving Egypt after a brief stopover last month, U.S. Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta appeared content. His meetings with Egypt´s
new president and military leadership ended with smiles and fanfare
from both sides, with tacit guarantees that America would continue to
provide Egypt with coveted military aid without further preconditions.
Had Mr. Panetta been on the ground in Egypt for more than six hours,
however, he might have understood that unabated American support was
fueling irresponsibility by the new leadership, in a manner that
would ultimately hurt American interests.
That was proved on Sunday, when dozens of Islamist militants overran
an Egyptian army outpost near the Israeli border. Fifteen dead
Egyptian soldiers, two stolen tanks, and a potentially destabilizing
cross-border raid into Israel indicate that Egypt doesn´t need any
more Abrams battle tanks or F-16 fighter jets from the U.S.
Instead, Egypt is in dire need of training and other counter-
insurgency equipment to help it suppress Islamic militancy in the
Sinai Peninsula. Most importantly, America must condition its aid to
Egypt on its efforts to combat the extremism in its midst.
In the security vacuum that ensued since Hosni Mubarak´s ousting,
militant groups from Gaza and elsewhere swarmed into the Sinai
Peninsula, quickly establishing a mini-Afghanistan on the
Mediterranean. Amongst the sand dunes and jagged mountains, these
militants found fertile breeding ground for their extremist ideology,
quickly radicalizing the native Bedouin tribesmen who were long
considered second-class citizens under the Mubarak dictatorship.
Sunday´s costly attack came after a number of unheeded warnings. A
year ago, Islamic militants staged a raid into Israel from the Sinai,
ambushing civilian and military vehicles, killing eight and wounding
dozens more. The Israeli army pursued the assailants, mistakenly
firing on Egyptian troops. The chaos played right into hands of the
extremists, sparking a diplomatic row between Egypt and Israel that
eventually led to an attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Since
that time, militants in the Sinai have launched rockets into Israeli
cities and attempted to kidnap Israeli civilians in continued
attempts to sabotage the 1979 peace treaty.
Israel has not been their only target, however. Egyptian security
forces have been attacked across the Sinai, while a crucial natural-
gas pipeline servicing Israel and Jordan has been bombed no less than
15 times, rendering it inoperable. The resulting halt in gas
deliveries to Jordan has directly contributed to soaring prices,
fueling religious extremism and public discontent against a key
American ally in the region.
Cynics will argue that Egypt´s failure to combat extremism results
from restrictions imposed on it by the 1979 Camp David Accords, which
call for a demilitarized zone in the Sinai. But these constraints
have been lifted in the past year, after Israel agreed to let Egypt
send troops and armor in the Sinai to root out extremists. This,
Israel believed, would help protect the border.
No such luck. Egypt´s primary aim in sending troops was to protect
the pipeline—so much for that—and so little effort was made to
improve the quality of life for local residents or destroy smuggling
tunnels used by militants coming and going from southern Gaza.
Egyptian troops have also lacked the specialized training needed to
combat the Sinai insurgency.
It is well within the power of America´s foreign-policy apparatus to
calm this volatile situation. In Algeria, American aid has greatly
contributed to the Bouteflika regime´s successful efforts to suppress
al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. American technology and drones have
enabled the Algerian government to flush terrorists from their
hideaways in the coastal mountains of the Sahel, to the point where
they are no longer able to launch attacks in major cities. Most
importantly, the aid came in conjunction with close cooperation on a
number of levels, including training and intelligence support, and
began with an Algerian commitment to defeat extremism.
In the Sinai Peninsula, a strict counter-terrorism doctrine must be
enforced upon Egypt, requiring the new leadership to provide tangible
results in reigning in militancy within their borders. It would serve
the Obama administration well to correct its approach toward post-
Mr. Nisman is an intelligence manager at Max Security Solutions, a
geopolitical-risk consulting firm based in Tel Aviv. (Copyright © Dow
Jones & Company, Inc.) 08/07/12)
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