The recent massacre of over 300 worshippers in a mosque in Northern Sinai brutally propelled the largely barren peninsula that links Africa to Asia, into international attention.
A Gruesome Reminder
The gory atrocity gave the world a gruesome reminder of the ongoing battle over the control of Sinai, raging between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government forces and the largely nomadic jihadi warlords.
Truth be told, large scale lawlessness and violent insurgency in one form or another in Sinai should come as no surprise. After all, following the evacuation of the peninsula by the Israeli military under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, strict conditions for its demilitarization were imposed. For Israel, this comprised the central component of the entire peace accord and still constitutes a critical element in its overall security.
However, these conditions seriously curtailed Cairo’s ability to enforce law and order in a decidedly "undomesticated" region, where dutiful respect for central authority, never mind meticulous adherence to its laws, are hardly the hallmarks of the indigenous mores and customs.
Accordingly, with Egypt’s restricted capacity to assert control, the largely nomadic gangs, clans, and tribes that comprise much of the population, were left relatively unfettered to pursue lawless activities, which included gun-running, drug-smuggling, human trafficking, abduction and extortion.
Moreover, with the rise of radical Islam across much of the Mideast, this fundamentalist doctrine found fertile ground among the fractious Bedouin tribes of Sinai, with their contentious relations with the regime in Cairo — particularly after the removal of the largely likeminded Mohamed Morsi by the military in 2013. Indeed, they showed an increasing affinity for the most extremist jihadi ideology — including pledges of allegiance to ISIS.
Clearly then, the strict enforcement of demilitarization leaves Egypt unable to effectively impose law and order. Indeed, it is only if Egypt is allowed to breach the conditions of such demilitarization that it can acquire the ability to contend with the increasing challenge of lawlessness and rejection of government authority.
And indeed, in the past, Egypt has repeatedly asked Israel to consent to it deploying troops that exceeded the stipulations of the peace treaty — including the introduction of tanks, helicopters and fighter planes. As a rule, Israel has agreed to such requests — and has even refrained from responding when increased deployments have been made without its prior approval.
Ethiopia: Egypt’s Elephant in the Room
Ethiopia, separated from Egypt’s southern border by Sudan, a vast country in its own right, is rarely bought up in the discussion of Sinai and future scenarios that may emerge.
This is a grave omission! For Ethiopia, in many respects, is Egypt’s elephant in the room.
Ethiopia is currently in the final stages of construction of a massive high dam on the Blue Nile, Egypt’s most important water source, which provides the bulk of the country’s supply.
Accordingly, Egypt has grave concerns that the dam —The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) — will adversely affect the downstream flow it receives today.
So serious are Cairo’s fears that it has even hinted that it would be prepared to use military force to halt construction or even destroy the dam.
To date, the two countries have been unable to come to any agreement on the construction of GERD, or how to contend with the repercussions for the downstream flow to Egypt — making the prospect of conflict between them ever closer.
However, conflict with Ethiopia would be a daunting prospect for an impoverished Egypt. Apart from the great distance over which it would have to project military force to be effective, is the fact — not widely-known — that Ethiopia’s population is significantly larger than that of Egypt’s, and its economy (one of the fastest growing in the world) is significantly stronger.
Thus, a clash with Addis Ababa is likely to siphon off huge resources from other activities in Egypt, leaving it with scant means—and motivation—to quell the insurgency in Sinai—leaving the jihadis with greater freedom to pursue their brutal goals there.
The Writing on the Wall
For Israel then, the writing is on the wall. For, as I wrote back in August 2011, the country may well have to face an emerging lose-lose strategic predicament, which will force it to decide between:
- Allowing Sinai to degenerate into an Afghanistan-like haven for al-Qaida and ISIS-like jihadi organizations; or
- Allowing a possibly hostile future (post el-Sisi) Egyptian regime to remilitarize the area, under the pretexts of attempting to reestablish law and order; or
- Reasserting Israeli control of Sinai, effectively repudiating the peace agreement with Cairo.
So, ironically, the case of Sinai, once held up as the crowing vindication of the land-for-peace principle, may yet turn out to be one of its most tragic and traumatic failures.
Dr. Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, dedicated to the preservation and propagation of joint values shared by the USA and Israel as embodied in the U.S. Constitution and Israel’s Declaration of Independence. He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment and acted as a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations, and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees — B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), MBA (Finance), and PhD in political science/international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and has authored two books as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. He was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.