Analysis: The impressive fighting abilities demonstrated by the Islamic State in northern Sinai pose a new challenge to the IDF. The use of simultaneous suicide bombings, imported from Syria and Iraq, could one day be directed at Israel.
The terror offensive launched Wednesday by the Islamic State (ISIS) organization in the Sinai Peninsula was aimed at undermining President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military-secular rule in Egypt. But from the reports arriving from Sinai, although they are initial and unclear, it seems that al-Sisi is not the only one who should be concerned – so should Israel.
In the short run, we have to prepare for the possibility that the attack on 15 posts and centers of the Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai, which claimed the lives of dozens of Egyptian soldiers, will develop into an offensive towards the Israeli border.
In recent years, global jihad activists in Sinai have already attacked posts of the Egyptian army and of the multinational force in northern Sinai, gained control of armored vehicles, “flattened” the border fence with them and infiltrated Israeli territory. They were stopped by an armored force with the Air Force’s help.
The report that ISIS fighters gained control of armored vehicles on Wednesday morning requires special preparations and alert. The jihadists could drive them towards the border terminals with Israel and the border fence in order to break through them with the heavy weight of the tanks and armored personnel carriers.
That is why the IDF quickly shut off the crossings and alerted all the communities along the border with Egypt, especially in its northwestern part. The instruction to the residents is to stay alert, and the IDF has also reinforced the presence of armored vehicles on the ground and unmanned aircraft monitoring what is happening near the border. The IDF is likely on the alert with helicopters and fighter jets, which Israel will not hesitate to use in case of an attempt to infiltrate its territory.
The battles taking place between the Egyptian army and the ISIS fighters could also develop into rocket and mortar fire towards Israel, and the Central Command is preparing for that too. In the meantime, it seems that the ISIS men are busy battling the Egyptian army, which is attacking them from the air and from the ground, but the heightened state of alert on the Israeli side will likely continue for a few more days, as experience shows that ISIS will try to create provocations on the border with Israel in a bid to cause a friction between the IDF and the Egyptian army and affect the relationship between Egypt and Israel.
There are good relations between the two countries today and excellent coordination between the IDF and Egyptian army, but there have already been incidents on the border in which the Egyptians expresses their discontent with the fact that the IDF opened fire at global jihad activists in Sinai who attacked, or tried to attack, communities and IDF patrols on the border fence with Egypt.
Not only rockets and ambushes
The greater concern, however, is over the impressive fighting abilities gained by the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis organization, which pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014, and its official name today is “The Caliphate in the Sinai District.” The strategic and complicated attacks, from a military perspective, executed by the organization in January and this Wednesday in northern Sinai show that it is no longer a gang which only knows how to carry out sporadic fire of short-range and inaccurate rockets, or to ambush a civilian bus or an IDF patrol on the Egypt-Israel border.
What we are now seeing is a semi-military organization using a hybrid method of action, which combines terror and planned, coordinated military fighting. Like the other ISIS branches across the Middle East, the members of the “The Caliphate in the Sinai District” are also well equipped with weapons and modern ammunition.
What we should really be concerned about is the fact that they know how to locate a large number of strategic targets, collect intelligence ahead of an operation and attack them simultaneously in accurate timing.
ISIS in Sinai is implementing the classic principle of war with considerable success: It attacked all the 15 targets it had chosen simultaneously, in order to create a surprise. If the attack had not been launched in coordination and at the same time, the Egyptian forces would have raised their level of alertness in the areas which had not been attacked yet.
The ISIS fighters succeeded in isolating the operation area through ambushes on the roads leading to the attacked targets, thereby preventing the arrival of reinforcement. The jihadists were able to enter a police station uninterrupted, take the police officers hostage, plant mines on the streets and run wild in public, in a bid to emphasize the Egyptian army’s helplessness and achieve a conscious victory.
These abilities and methods of action characterize ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and it seems that someone who came from there went to the trouble of training the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis activists to carry out similar attacks. The evidence is the methods of actions imported from Iraq and Syria and the use of simultaneous suicide attacks through car bombs to carry out Wednesday’s attack in Sinai. That is exactly how ISIS operates in Syria and Iraq: A suicide bombing creates the shock and the breaches in the fence and in the wall through which the attacking force enters.
The intelligence problem
In light of these points, we should consider the possibility that one day these abilities will be directed at us, whether because the Egyptian army eases its pressure i on the terrorists in Sinai or because the terrorists gain self-confidence and decide that it’s time to launch a front against Israel too. It could happen sooner than we think, and we should also acknowledge the fact that the border fence cannot efficiently block a trained “army” which has experience with complicated fighting operations. ISIS is already on the fences.
It’s surprising to discover that the training, operational planning and the movement of the ISIS forces from their hiding areas towards their targets on Wednesday escaped the Egyptian intelligence’s eyes. It’s very possible that the preparations also escaped the eyes of other intelligence services in the area, those operated by countries which have good relations and security cooperation with Egypt.
If any of these elements or the Egyptian army has any intelligence, al-Sisi’s security forces in northern Sinai would have likely been warned of the impending offensive. The Egyptian army and its intelligence should have been able to detect such an offensive, in which many communication devices were used, and there were likely warning signs in the movement on Sinai routes, in the social networks and on the Internet as well.
The fact that such a major offensive flew under the radar of the Egyptian intelligence service and its allies should concern the Egyptian government. Attacks like the one which took place in Sinai on Wednesday and on Egyptian territory on Tuesday gradually reduce the conscious basis that the current regime is leaning on among Egypt’s resident. The lack of physical security in Egypt could lay the foundations for another revolution.
This is exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood people, who have gone underground and are acting against the government from there, want to achieve. This is also what ISIS, which sees a secular-Muslim regime as an abomination, wants to achieve.
It’s quite possible that Wednesday’s attack was carried out in coordination between these two organizations, inspired by the Ramadan holiday, in honor of the second anniversary of the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi regime in Egypt and in honor of the anniversary of the first appearance of ISIS as an influential military elements in the Middle Eastern arena.
It isn’t hard to estimate that if the current regime in Egypt is undermined, the State of Israel’s national security will be seriously affected as well.