Deploying its air force for the first time in nearly 40 years, the Egyptian military launched an air offensive in the unruly Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, three days after Islamists killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in an attack that threatened both the Egyptian-Israeli border and the political standing of Egypt’s new president. [McClatchyDC]
THE ARAB SPRING has opened a path for the Sinai Peninsula to become a safe haven for Islamist extremists, which has suddenly posed a direct challenge to Pres. Morsi’s new leadership. Morsi met the threats by unleashing the Egyptian military and directing airstrikes against the militants who on Sunday killed 16 Egyptian security forces.
The strikes on Egyptian soil came three days after armed militants in the Sinai killed 16 members of Egypt’s security forces, broke through the border into Israel and attempted to launch a separate attack there. Among security officials fired by Morsi on Wednesday were Egypt’s intelligence chief, Murad Mowafi, and the governor of North Sinai province, Abdel Wahab Mabrouk; the president also ordered his defense minister to relieve the head of the country’s military police, a spokesman said.
The steps signaled a clear, if belated, acknowledgment from Morsi, Egypt’s first Islamist president, that Islamist militants who have taken root in the Sinai pose a significant challenge to Egypt.
Leaked Wikileak cables in late 2010, which caused a ruckus at the time, revealed through Ambassador Margaret Scobey that U.S. efforts to get Egypt to concentrate on the Sinai Peninsula, but particularly asymmetrical threats posed in the wide open spaces of the Sinai where weapons were awash, were ongoing.
One real issue for Morsi is that the Islamists and militants that are causing problems in the Sinai also happen to be the same types who make up his base, so to speak, at home. They’ve become comfortable with little attention, which has allowed them to move further into a Sharia law governance that could pose a threat to the new Egyptian President’s prowess.