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Israel and Egypt Attack Sinai Insurrection

Egyptian air force attacks in Sinai for first time since 1973

Violence in Sinai

Violence in Sinai

August 2012 began violently in the Sinai Peninsula. Glowing leftovers from the violence that took place last February erupted into full flames, causing unprecedented attacks from Israel and Egypt. On August 5, Global Jihad militants attacked an Egyptian outpost near Gaza, killed 16 Egyptians, and stole several vehicles. One of the stolen Fahd Armored Personnel Carriers was hit in the subsequent Israeli air strike. A second APC exploded before it could enter Israeli territory, at the Kerem Shalom Border Terminal, which connects Israel, Gaza and Egypt; the IDF released an aerial video of the incident. On August 8, Egypt responded with air strikes close to the border with Israel, killing over twenty suspected Islamic militants, as reported by state news agency Ahram. This is the first time the Egyptian air force attacks in Sinai since 1973. The peace agreement between the countries forces Egypt to coordinate with Israel military moves in Sinai. The ongoing insurrection in Sinai is gathering momentum to such an extent that Egypt’s new Islamist government and the Zionists are cooperating in ways they never thought possible. Winds of change enliven slow-burning coals.

The Insurrection

IDF Attacks in Sinai

IDF Attacks in Sinai
August 2012

Sinai is burning. In the early hours of February 5, 2012, an explosion hit the gas pipeline running from Egypt to Israel west of the Mediterranean resort town of al-Arish. Consequently, the supply of Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan was cut. In the last year, this pipeline was attacked twelve times and experienced several cuts. The recurrence of the event at the amazing average rate of once a month is not surprising. Due to the peace agreement with Israel, the Egyptian army cannot enter the area and the police are in charge of security. However, following Mubarak’s fall in February 2011, police presence thinned out across Egypt. This abandonment of the Sinai Peninsula by the Egyptians combines with other facts into a perfect formula for the creation of the recent violence. First, the Bedouins living in the area resent their being marginalized within Egypt. Second, the gas is supplied to Israel at a large discount in a twenty-year long contract signed by Mubarak’s government, while the gas price to Jordan was doubled last October. Additional reasons for violence exist also on the other side of the border.

Derived from an Arabic word for semi-arid desert, “Bedouin” is a term designating members of a large number of Arab tribes. Egypt features a 400,000 Bedouin population, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula; while Israel has 200,000 Bedouin citizens living in the Negev Desert and a smaller number in the Galilee. In Sinai, they kept mainly loyal to their traditional ways, while in Israel the situation was different. Over 60% of Israel is within the Negev Desert; wandering Bedouins inhabited the area for thousands of years, their ancestors were traders along the romantic Silk Road. Since the mid-19th century there has been a slow process of settling down among them. In the 1950s, the Israeli army began limiting the Bedouins freedom, attempting to concentrate them in certain areas. Since the 1970s, the Israeli Administration began creating Bedouin towns, Rahat being the largest one. Nowadays there are roughly fifty Bedouin settlements in the Negev with a total of some two hundred thousand inhabitants, roughly half of them in recognized towns and villages.

Recognized towns and villages get infrastructure and services from the state, while unrecognized settlements get nothing. In exchange for recognition, the Israeli Administration often asks for relocation and for proper verification of ownership. Now, Israel’s law system is incomplete. Where laws do not exist, Israeli courts often refer to British Mandate and Ottoman Empire laws. In this case, Israel decided to work according to the Ottoman Empire law here, demanding from the Bedouins Ottoman “Kushan” ownership papers. Not one Bedouin has such documents. The result is violent frictions each time the Israeli Administration attempts to regularize (a polite way of referring to “state-theft”) the situation of a given tribe. This is to the extent that a “Bedouin Intifada” is not a new concept; in August 2010 violence erupted between Bedouins and the Israeli police. The latter failed to enter a Bedouin settlement after discovering that the Bedouins were better armed than them.

Desert Rangers Battalion

IDF’s Desert Rangers Battalion

The Bedouins’ situation in Israel is complex. They are citizens, and as such they may volunteer for service in the IDF (though most Jewish citizens are forced to enroll-I use here the definitions used by the Israeli Ministry of Interior). Many Bedouins volunteer for the IDF, but—unlike Druze citizens—they are restricted almost completely to service within one unit. It is called the Desert Rangers Battalion (“Gdud Siur Midbari” in Hebrew), which is part of the Givati Infantry Brigade. Often called the “Minorities Unit,” it includes also Circassian and even a few Palestinian soldiers. All of them must volunteer to the IDF. These soldiers serve mainly as trackers and pathfinders, and often are attached ad hoc to other military units while those attempt to move across the desert. The main point is that they are heavily monitored and kept away from strategic units and issues. They are not trusted. Their skills serve them also outside the army, where they are known for being able to cross the well-defended, fenced border between Israel and Egypt at will. This is when the two stories combine.

Interlude: Sinai? Who Cares!

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Often, historical events are sanitized to fit actual political sensibilities. The original Santa Claus originated in Turkey, before it became a Muslim state. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose provides astonishing views into Christian monasteries and libraries. Most people will place such organizations in Europe; yet, the world’s second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts is in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, in southern Sinai. Only the Vatican collection surpasses it.

This is a reminder than the Sinai Peninsula is a vastly underdeveloped area with an extraordinary potential. Beyond its culture, it offers also astonishing coasts, which had been only partially developed. This is even before mentioning the area still has tremendous importance in the transport of oil and gas. Overall, it may well support an independent state.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

The Ladder of Divine Ascent | Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Muslim Egypt, Zionist Israel and…

The recent violence looks strange. How did the Global Jihad militants arrive at their targets? They couldn’t move along paved roads; Egyptian police would have detained them. The “global” part of the name should be read “foreigners.” It means they don’t know the desert. Moving there safely demands more than a compass and a Lonely Planet guidebook. How did the oil pipes been targeted with such regularity and precision? Ever since the peak days of the Silk Road, Bedouins use their skills as pathfinders and trackers to control the routes connecting the Negev Desert and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as related pathways. The low-key Bedouin Intifada within Israel is beginning to show its muscles, when a de facto Bedouin State is helping unexpected allies and setting the basis for a future open rebellion.

The situation is so serious than two unprecedented events took place since the revolt against Mubarak begun. The first was the entrance to Sinai of at least an entire brigade of the Egyptian army. The peace agreement between the countries allows only Egyptian police forces to patrol the peninsula. Yet, in fear of the developing rebellion, Netanyahu allowed Egypt to use its army in Sinai. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. Then, in the last days, Israel allowed Egypt to make the abovementioned air attack nest to its border. On June 2012, Mohamed Morsi was declared Egypt’s first Islamist president in the freest elections in the country’s history. He is the first president openly identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was defined illegal by the military-run regime. He has good relations with Iran and made several announcements showing its intentions to shift Egypt’s alliances in the area. Yet, shortly afterwards, he found himself dealing with Israel on friendly terms, and even got a permission to use Egypt’s air force near the Israeli border. This is how critic the situation in Sinai is turning.

Reality is changing fast in the Middle East. There are credible signs that Israel may begin an indirect war with Iran. If Netanyahu is badly pressed, then he may decide to attack directly. A war between Israel and Syria is also probable. In either case, when that day comes, Bedouins may use their skills as pathfinders and trackers, and their control of the routes connecting the Negev Desert and the Sinai Peninsula, to cross-over and create a new Bedouin State with their brothers on the Egyptian side. There would be nobody capable of stopping the event. A well-known Bedouin saying is “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers.” It reflects very well their hierarchy of loyalties. If the opportunity would arise, there is little doubt it would be seized. A flying camel passing through illusions of modern power; an ancient Silk Road reasserting its birth rights.

3 Responses to Israel and Egypt Attack Sinai Insurrection

  1. etominusipi August 9, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    Sinai has seen action before. i recently came across this discussion, which relates to matters aired in the US and Israeli media in 1995. as one might expect the Israeli Defence establishment does not wish to review the events. i was not previously aware of these allegations (well, let us simply say, facts), though they are probably familiar to more knowledgeable members of the deLiberation community.

    war is nasty, brutish and…well, not really short, it seems to be almost the norm. and the ethics of war, e.g. Geneva Conventions, is a rather strange subject. nevertheless it is essential. the idea of war crimes is the only way that the psychopathic excesses released in combat situations might eventually be curbed.

    this is a rather long post, mainly quotations from newspaper articles, for which i apologise. this material in this form was from the website:

    Submitted by quasimodo on Thu, 2007-03-15 02:11


    Israeli soldiers killed hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war during the 1967 Middle East war – deaths that commanders who are now prominent leaders have known about for years, historians said today. The controversy involves some top politicians, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and legislator Rafael Eitan , a former army chief. The allegations dominated news shows, shocking many Israelis who have long prized the notion that their army maintained high ethical standards throughout decades of warfare with the Arab world and military rule over Palestinians. The Army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Amos Gilad, refused to comment. Rabin, who was chief of staff when some of the 1967 killings allegedly were committed, walked away today when a reporter shouted a related question. His office later issued a statement denouncing the killings and calling them isolated incidents.

    Military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki said today that Israeli troops carried out several mass killings in 1967 in which about 1,000 Egyptian prisoners were slain in the Sinai. Yitzhaki, who worked in the army’s history department after the war, said he and other officers collected testimony from dozens
    of solders who admitted killing POWs. He said a report on the killings submitted to his superiors has been locked in a safe at military headquarters.

    Another Israeli historian, Uri Milstein, said there were many incidents in the 1967 war in which Egyptian soldiers were killed by Israeli troops after they had raised their hands in surrender.

    “It was not an official policy, but there was an atmosphere that it was okay to do it,” Milstein said. “Some commanders decided to do it; others refused. But everyone knew of it.”

    HISTORIAN ALLEGES POW DEATHS IN 1956, 1967, The Jewish Telegraph Agency, August 17, 1995:

    An Israeli military historian has said he knew of hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war who were killed during the 1967 Six-Day War by Israel Defense Force troops, including a unit headed by the current Israeli housing minister. Military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki of Bar-Illan University told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the killings involved a crack unit led by now Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

    Yitzhaki said the executions of 300 to 400 Egyptian commandos in El Arish was the worse case he knew, given that many of the Egyptians had surrendered. They were killed by members of the Shaked commando unit under the command of Ben-Eliezer, a lieutenant colonel at the time, he said. Ben-Eliezer said he was unaware of any prisoner killings.

    Referring to the Six-Day War, Yitzhaki said not only were the executions known, but a report he prepared in 1968 on the deaths was not released under instructions from higher authorities. Responding to the reports, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he thought such incidents were exceptions to the norm and that they should be condemned by all.


    This week, as more soldiers came forward to say they saw fellow Israelis kill unarmed enemies in decades past, a long-suppressed public reckoning began. The stakes are profound for an army whose “purity of arms” has been the core of its self-image through five wars. . . . Also Wednesday, military historian Arye Yitzhaki of Bar Ilan University accused a storied(?) reconnaissance unit, known as Shaked (Almond), of killing hundreds of Egyptians who had abandoned their weapons and fled into the desert in the 1967 Middle East war. . . . One day after Yitzhaki’s charge came a first-person account by Gabi Brun of Yedioth Aharonoth, the country’s most widely read tabloid. He wrote of watching Israeli troops execute five Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai Desert town of El Arish in 1967. The first of the five, he wrote, was forced to dig the grave. Each of them in turn was shot dead in it. “For a Jew to read this description, I don’t know what to say,” said left-wing activist Uri Avnery, who is demanding prosecution of Israeli war criminals. “This is the typical SS technique. This is a Nazi story in the most literal sense of the word.” . . . Ariel Sharon, interviewed at home today, described the sudden debate of old war crimes as “a kind of national suicide. Israel doesn’t need this, and no one can preach to us about it – no one,” he said. “The Israeli armed forces are a model and symbol of high moral values . . . We speak about an event that took place 40 years ago. Now, when all of us live in a different condition, it’s very hard sitting in armchairs and air-conditioned rooms to try and understand what happened on those battlefields. . . . I’m not justifying things like that.” . . . . Rabin, too, described this week’s traumatic debate as akin to ‘national suicide.’

    RABIN REFUSES TO PROBE ALLEGED ISRAELI WAR CRIMES, Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 21, 1995:

    Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin rejected calls Sunday to investigate long-suppressed allegations of Israeli war crimes against Egyptian prisoners of war, saying both sides were guilty of aberrations.

    “I’m not saying there were no aberrations,” Rabin told the Cabinet in his first substantive remarks on the alleged atrocities. “There were aberrations on both sides. There is no purpose in raising events of the past, not on our side and not on theirs”. . . . Cabinet Secretary Shmuel Hollander said Rabin stressed Sunday that “these events were real exceptions.” Israel is reeling from two weeks of revelations that its soldiers killed prisoners and civilians in at least three Mideast Wars. The disclosures have shaken the widely held conviction among Israelis that their citizen-soldiers were morally superior to other armies. . . Military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki charged that Israeli troops carried out mass killings in the Sinai in 1967 in which 1,000 Egyptian prisoners died . . . Many questions remain unanswered, including the extent of the alleged crimes, why details were censored for so long and the involvement of senior Israeli officials, including Rabin, who was Army chief of staff during the 1967 war.


    At the same time, a reporter for Yediot Ahronot, Gabi Bron, described atrocities that he witnessed in the 1967 war: “The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death. I witnessed the executions with my own eyes in the morning of June 8, in the airport area of El Arish.”

    EGYPT SAYS ISRAELIS KILLED POWS IN ’67 WAR, The New York Times, September 21, 1995:

    Egypt said today that it had discovered two mass graves in the Sinai containing the remains of Egyptian prisoners of war and unarmed civilians shot by Israeli soldiers during the 1967 war. . . . At the same time, an Israeli historian said that as many as 300 unarmed Egyptian were killed in both the 1967 war and in the war of 1956. Those reports led to other allegations and revelations. . . . “I saw a line of prisoners, civilians and military, and they opened fire at them all at once,” Mr. Moussa was quoted as saying. “When they were dead, they told us to bury them. . . Al Ahram also quoted a bedouin, Suleman Moghnem Salameh, who said he saw Israelis kill about 30 Egyptian soldiers and officers after they surrendered, leaving them for the Bedouins to bury. . . . President Mubarak has called for an investigation in Israel and punishment of those responsible. Israel responded by sending Elli Dayan, a Deputy Foreign Minister, to discuss the matter. During his visit here, he offered compensation to the victims but noted Israel’s 20-year statute of limitations.

  2. Ariadna Theokopoulos August 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Great article from Roy as usual, and a great contribution from eto–both worth archiving as bibliographical resources.

  3. Blake August 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Normal Egyptians need permits to get into the Sinai. I am highly suspicious of this attack. Through deception thou doest wars – Mossad motto. Lavon Affair, attack on USS Liberty, etc