Blog 266 August 17, 2015
This week Libya called on fellow Arab states for air strikes against the ISIS terrorist branch operating in their country in the costal city of Surt. During the past week, ISIS crushed a Salafist group trying to break their control of that city. Dozens were killed. On Wednesday ISIS troops also struck soldiers loyal to the official government in Benghazi. Nine soldiers were killed, a tank destroyed, and vehicles knocked out. The commercial airport in Benghazi has been closed for a year. It is not clear how Arab states like Saudi Arabia will respond. The point is that these battles paint a picture of ISIS on the move in a nation far away from their center in Syria. A situation to be remembered.
Moving over one country, Egypt continues to struggle in a life and death conflict with the same elements. A Sinai-based Islamist insurgency continues to rage with both Israel and Egypt concerned about this destructive presence. These rebels coming out of the Sinai desert have proven persistent.
The current Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi remains stable and in control but has not yet stopped the same upraising that is now plaguing Libya.
A current assessment indicates that the jihadists will stay cornered in northeastern Sinai, but they are not being permanently defeated. Egypt’s problem is that they need new equipment and particularly drones. As America has repeatedly performed across the entire Middle East under the Obama administration, the United States has been slow to the pont of being negligible in providing arms and assistance to meet these needs. In fact, after the military coup that defeated the Moslem Brotherhood and brought al-Sisi to power, American waited so long to help that Egypt began conversations with Putin to supply these needs.
In January, radical Sunni militants killed 40 Egyptian soldiers. The group called itself Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and declared an affiliation with ISIS. At that time, al-Sisi lambasted radical Islam as being a perversion of “true religion.” He cited the need for a genuine “religious revolution.” How right he was!
I once landed in the Sinai and remember humidity of a minus 20 (my immaginary calculation). Never have I experienced such an arid land! One quick glance revealed decades of neglect. The sparse security naturally invited illegal trafficking resulting in a flow of arms, drugs, migrants, and prostitution has been rumored. In the ‘80’s when Israel withdrew and turned the territory back to Egypt, plans were made for development that never came to pass. Because of the failed promises, a growing sense of alienation from Egypt developed what has today produced the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and any other jihadist’s group. With the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the army concentrated on urban areas, leaving the Sinai alone. Smuggling goods into the Gaza Strip became big business.
Al-Sisis has the restoration of internal security in Egypt and Sinai at the top of his list and has broad popular support for this effort. In addition, Israel stands behind this effort to clean out the jihadists and will support Egypt’s efforts.
That’s a plus for sure.