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Sinai's Jihadists/ The rise of antisemitism

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Update from AIJAC

February 6, 2015
Number 02/15 #02

This Update contains two knowledgeable analysis pieces on the situation in Sinai, where the Egyptian security forces are battling an ISIS-linked group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which carried out a particularly spectacular series of coordinated mortar and truck bomb attacks last Thursday, leaving 33 people dead. It goes on to include another good piece on the rise of European antisemitism, especially in the wake of recent reports suggesting antisemitic attacks in Britain are at the highest ever level.

First up is Zvi Mazel, former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, on Sinai. He notes that while the Egyptian army has had some success dealing with arms smuggling and in jailing or killing terrorists, it is not geared to deal with the sort of guerilla war it is having to fight in Sinai. He argues that the insurgency combines extreme partisans of the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government, the disgruntled local Bedouin, and outside Jihadis, and says the US is making a mistake in refusing to assist Egypt in confronting this threat, which can easily spread beyond Egypt. For all that he has to say, CLICK HERE. More good reporting and analysis on the Sinai attacks comes from Walter Russell MeadYaroslav Trofimov and a report published by Reuters.

Next up, counter-terrorism expert Yoram Schweitzer takes a more Israel-centric look at the "low-intensity conflict" in Sinai. Schweitzer analyses the size and sophistication of the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis attacks and the links between the group and both IS and Hamas. He goes on to discuss Israel's interests in events in Sinai and strongly suggests it is in Israel's interests to do everything possible to aid the Egyptian armed forces, including potentially by lobbying Washington to provide support. For the rest of his expert discussion, CLICK HERE.

Finally, American columnist and author Richard Cohen looks at the reality of the rise of European antisemitism and especially the claims increasingly being heard that this is simply a response to Israeli policies. He talks about what he discovered about antisemitism in researching a recent book - including its past pervasiveness and power - and directly takes on the claim that it is anger about the treatment of the Palestinians that is driving the current prevalence of antisemitism among Arabs and Muslims. He also says his studies of antisemitism convinced him not only that Israel is good for the Jews, but very necessary. For this important argument in full, CLICK HERE. Also offering an interesting recent discussion of rising European antisemitism, based his own recent experiences there, is Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

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Analysis: Egypt and the new terror onslaught 

Zvi Mazel

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1, 2015

After spectacular attacks mounted against police and army targets in Sinai by Islamic terrorist organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis left dozens of dead and wounded late on Thursday, there was an outpouring of support for the army, probably the most popular organization in Egypt.

“I am an Egyptian soldier” trended on social networks.

Nevertheless, some hard questions are being asked.

Why can’t the Egyptian army, arguably the strongest and largest Arab army in the Middle East, defeat a terrorist organization in an integral part of the country, the Sinai Peninsula? After all, the regime rushed huge reinforcements to the area, including helicopters, armored personnel carriers and other heavy equipment. The media in Egypt, which enjoys greater freedom than in the past, is vocal in its criticism of the president, who came from the ranks of the army and had pledged to eradicate terrorism.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi immediately cut short his visit to Addis Ababa, where he was attending the annual summit of the organization of African Unity to deal with the situation. The fact is that in the 18 months since the ouster of the Muslim Brothers, Islamic terrorist organizations in the Sinai Peninsula have vastly developed their operations. They have united under the banner of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and have demonstrated that they can be highly effective. Last October, an attack on an army post left 31 soldiers dead. A night curfew was imposed on Northern Sinai and a buffer zone 1,000 meters deep along the Gaza Strip was created, its inhabitants being forced to relocate. Though they did receive compensation, the move deepened the hostility felt by local Bedouin against the regime.

The army has met with some success. Some 1,850 contraband tunnels were destroyed, hundreds of terrorists killed or jailed. In the past few weeks there appeared to be a marked decline in terrorist attacks; at the same time, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis declared its allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and took the name of “Sinai Province.”

It was under this name that it took responsibility for Thursday’s attacks.

Throughout Egypt, police stations, government buildings, power lines and other strategic facilities are targeted by explosive devices. Though the overall damage is slight, the population feels threatened, and economic development in hampered. The Muslim Brotherhood regularly tries to organize mass protests.

While they attract fewer and fewer participants, they are becoming more violent, leading to aggressive repression by exasperated security forces. The president still has the situation well in hand, and his efforts to develop the economy are bearing fruit; his popularity is still very high.

It has become only too apparent that after 18 months of intensive efforts in Sinai, the army still does not know how to fight guerrillas.

The problem of course is that the Egyptian army was never properly trained for that type of warfare – not by its own commanders and not through American military assistance. That assistance included training in military academies in the US (Gen. Sisi attended such an institution) and joint military exercises.

However the focus was on classical warfare – a type of warfare not relevant in the Middle East today.

Furthermore, though the Egyptian army is fighting on Egyptian territory, it has to deal in Sinai with a largely hostile Bedouin population that shows no disposition to cooperate with a central government which has ignored them for decades. This was to prove a fertile ground first for Hamas, which during the Mubarak years set up with the help of the Bedouin contraband routes to bring missiles and weapons from Sudan to Gaza. Today there is an added danger coming with jihadists crossing from Libya to join Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and bringing with them missiles and weapons pillaged from Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenal.

Urgent measures are needed to help Egypt overcome a terrorist threat which is now compounded by the presence of an outpost of Islamic State in Sinai and the flux of militants from other zones.

Unfortunately Cairo’s long term ally, America, in spite of the many military assistance agreements it entered with Cairo following the peace treaty with Israel, is dragging its feet and has yet to restore fully its military cooperation, put on hold following the army takeover. Egypt is not receiving the help it so desperately need to maintain its stability.

The Obama administration still supports the Brotherhood, claiming that far from being a terrorist organization it is an authentic and legitimate political current of Islam. Only last week a delegation composed of members of the Brotherhood who fled Egypt in the wake of their ouster was received at the State Department. The photo- op went viral.

When will the West – and America – finally understand that a prolonged and bloody conflict in Sinai will ineluctably affect all countries in the region and threaten not only Israel but Europe, where heightened tension is already felt – and ultimately the United States itself? 

The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

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Egypt’s War in the Sinai Peninsula: A Struggle that Goes beyond Egypt

Yoram Schweitzer

INSS Insight No. 661, February 3, 2015
Egypt is in the midst of a war that can be categorized as a low-intensity conflict. This category represents a common pattern of military campaigns in the early twenty-first century: sub-conventional wars fought by armies and security services belonging to states against armies of terrorilla- fully armed and hierarchical organizations that operate among civilian populations, combining guerilla and terror warfare tactics with the logic of terrorism. Egypt’s campaign in Sinai has tremendous significance for Israel. Any intelligence, operational, or political assistance that Israel can provide to the el-Sisi regime, including support for improving its ties with the United States and a willingness to favorably consider requests by Egypt to expand its military presence in the Sinai, will serve Israel’s security interests, the overall relationship between Israel and Egypt, and the necessary international campaign to block the spread of IS and its partners.

Egypt is in the midst of a war that can be categorized as a low-intensity conflict. This category represents a common pattern of military campaigns in the early twenty-first century: sub-conventional wars fought by armies and security services belonging to states against armies of terrorilla- fully armed and hierarchical organizations that operate among civilian populations, combining guerilla and terror warfare tactics with the logic of terrorism. The civilians provide shelter and aid, whether under duress or in solidarity, and they always suffer the bitter consequences of the conflict.

Egypt’s war against Salafist jihadi elements, primarily in the Sinai Peninsula, has also spilled over to its streets. The war in the Sinai is thus merely part of a broad campaign, shared by Egypt’s Middle Eastern neighbors. The governments of these countries are fighting to prevent the spread of militant Salafist jihad, seeking to impose Islamic religious law based on the Taliban model, which governed Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

The January 29, 2015 attack in the area of el-Arish and Sheikh Zweid in northern Sinai by armed groups numbering some sixty perpetrators s focused primarily on military and police targets, though civilian targets were not spared. Thirty-two people were killed in this attack, which included rockets and mortar fire and at least three suicide bombings. There were also concurrent attacks in Port Said and Alexandria.

The offensive was carried out by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which has been calling itself “Wilayat Sinai” since November 2014, when it pledged  allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS), and subordinated itself to the group. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis began operating in Sinai in late 2011, following the uprising that broke out in Egypt against the Husni Mubarak regime. Its members include  residents of the Gaza Strip, Hamas veterans, as well as local Bedouins, who adopted the Salafist jihadi ideology  and joined veteran operatives from Egyptian terrorist organizations who supported al-Qaeda or joined its ranks. These operatives escaped from Egyptian prisons or were released after the Mubarak regime was toppled. They were also joined by foreign fighters who infiltrated Egypt from various areas in which jihadi organizations were active, including Libya, Yemen, and Mali, and some of them joined Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis under orders from IS.

The attack in northern Sinai was another link in the chain of murderous attacks causing numerous casualties carried out by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in recent years, along with the daily attacks against military and police forces stationed in the Sinai. Among the most notable were the attack in Rafah during the Ramadan fast in August 2012, which caused the deaths of sixteen soldiers; the killing of twenty-one soldiers near the border with Libya in July 2014; the execution of twenty-five soldiers in August 2013; and the attack in October 2014 that killed thirty-one soldiers.

The issue of targeting the army in Egypt is sensitive, as the Egyptian Armed Forces are considered a symbol of national honor. The series of attacks has thus forced Egypt to wage all-out war against the perpetrators. However, it is likely that any country would have responded harshly to systematic harm on the level caused by the jihadi operatives’ attacks in the Sinai.

Another target for counter-terror operations by Egyptian security forces is Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Cairo sees Hamas as a major player involved in the establishment of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and as such, the party responsible for the area that constitutes the rear headquarters essential to its continued operations. Therefore, Egypt has recently designated the military branch of Hamas, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as a terrorist organization. The connection between Hamas in Gaza and the armed terrorilla campaign in the Sinai is the reason that Egypt established a security zone about one kilometer wide along its border with Gaza. It is also working to destroy the extensive infrastructure of tunnels built by Hamas, used for smuggling weapons and operatives from Gaza to Sinai and back to seek refuge in Gaza.

The fact that IS has granted its patronage to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is another cause for concern in Egypt. IS support for the group through funding and provision of weapons and personnel gives Egypt’s campaign in the Sinai great importance, which goes beyond maintaining the stability of the regime and protecting Egypt’s national security. The success of the Abdul Fattah el-Sisi government in providing an effective response to the  offensive by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and its partners will also affect the ability of other countries in the region—Libya, Yemen, Jordan and others —to contend with Salafist jihadi elements. Such success will also serve to hinder the impression of an unstoppable, threatening force created by IS conquests. 

The connection between jihadi elements targeting Egypt and IS is not restricted to Sinai. IS supporters, who have taken over Darna and other cities in Libya, were also involved in terror attacks in Egypt in the area of the border with Libya. Furthermore, IS spokesmen have urged Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis to overthrow the el-Sisi regime. This is tangible evidence of their intentions to turn the Libyan-Egyptian border into an active combat zone and Libya into an infrastructural and logistical rear for their activities.

Another source of concern for Egypt is the building tension in Jordan. Internal unrest in Jordan is growing against the backdrop of the negotiations between Jordan and IS for the release of the Jordanian pilot who was captured after his plane was shot down in Syria. The unrest is evident primarily among Islamic elements, including IS supporters, who are protesting Jordan’s participation in the international, U.S.-led anti-IS coalition. The execution of a Japanese journalist taken captive by the organization, in addition to the Jordanian pilot’s captors’ refusal to provide proof of life, does not bode well. However, one can assume that even an escalation in protests by Islamic circles in Jordan will not change the kingdom’s approach to the need for a steadfast struggle against IS and that Jordan will not withdraw from active participation in the coalition waging war against the group.

Egypt’s campaign in the Sinai has tremendous significance for Israel. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has carried out attacks against Israel in the past, including the attack on Highway 12, which leads to Eilat; firing of rockets at Eilat before and during Operation Protective Edge; and sending a suicide bomber to the Kerem Shalom border crossing, who was killed by the Egyptians before he could carry out his plan. These events, along with the group’s close ties with organizations active in the Gaza Strip—Hamas,  Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, the Army of Islam, the Popular Resistance Committees, and more—strengthen the common Israeli-Egyptian interest on this issue. The two countries have an even greater common interest, given the explicit declarations by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis that it will continue to operate directly against Israel.

Escalation in the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis struggle against Israel could be a complex challenge for IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens. The group has great—and proven—military capability, and its attacks are carried out by squads with many participants, sometimes between ten and several dozen heavily armed attackers equipped with rockets, mortars, rocket launchers, and missiles. It has also made use of suicide tactics.

The assessment that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis will again operate against Israel relies on past experience, the group’s current operations in the Sinai Peninsula, and its close ties with the terrorist organizations active in Gaza. It is even possible that it will do so under the guidance of IS, which, according to a speech by al-Baghdadi in January 2015, depicts Israel as a partner and assistant of the international coalition fighting against it in Syria and Iraq.

Therefore, any intelligence, operational, or political assistance that Israel can provide to the el-Sisi regime, including support for improving its ties with the United States and a willingness to favorably consider requests by Egypt to expand its military presence in the Sinai, will serve Israel’s security interests, the overall relationship between Israel and Egypt, and the necessary international campaign to block the spread of IS and its partners.

The author would like to thank Av Brass, an intern in the INSS Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict Program, for his assistance in collecting the information for this article.

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Anti-Semitism is once again on the march in Europe




Washington Post, February 2

The title of my recently published book is “Israel: Is It Good for the Jews?” When I started writing it, I did not know how I was going to answer that question. The more I delved into the subject, the more I read and did research, the more I concluded that the answer is yes. The recent events in Paris make me even surer.

In the long and blood-soaked history of Europe’s Jews, the death of four more in a Parisian kosher market is, at best, a footnote. But they were not the accidental victims of the terrorists’ wrath, not just merely in the way or in the line of fire. They were singled out for who they were and not for what they had done — like publish provocative cartoons. They were killed for being Jews.

Why? The conventional answer is Israel — or, to put it another way, the plight of the Palestinians. There is some truth to both of these, yet the Islamic world is not so concerned about Palestinians that it has accorded Palestinian refugees anything like equal rights in the countries where they have sought refuge or protested when whole Palestinian communities were uprooted from Kuwait and other Gulf states after the PLO supported Saddam Hussein — ethnic cleansing of a type. The Arab world weeps for the Palestinians — but only on cue and not too much.

So the supposed madness, the supposedly justifiable anger, that drives some Muslims into sharing core beliefs with Adolf Hitler, is not all that essential to the Islamic or Arab identity. Millions, maybe a billion, Muslims go about their daily business without giving Israel or the Palestinians a thought. They do give a thought, however, to their own helplessness, to the astonishingly high rates of unemployment both in the Arab world and in the minority neighborhoods of European cities. Here is where the Jew plays a role. He can be blamed.

Anti-Semitism is the most durable and pliable of all conspiracy theories. It supposedly accounts for the death of Christ and the Jewish dominance of the liberal media. It carefully noted the disproportionate number of Jews in the communist movement and in the capitalist movement. Anti-Semitism can account for the wealth of the Jews and their scientific and artistic achievements. They are — we are — a most nimble people. We’ve had to be.

Blaming Israel for anti-Semitism misses the point. For at least 1,948 years, anti-Semitism both existed and thrived when Israel did neither. The pogroms of Europe — and the occasional ones of the Muslim Middle East — took place with no Israel in sight. The Holocaust consumed 6 million Jews and not because Hitler was pro-Palestinian. Anti-Semitism infected ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the subtle mind of T.S. Eliot and the tinkering brain of Henry Ford way before any future Israeli had pushed around any future Palestinian. Anti-Semitism does not need a reason. It needs only an excuse.

That excuse is present in contemporary Europe. Its Muslim minority is poor and inordinately unemployed. It loathes Israel for what it is allegedly doing to the Palestinians, and it hates Jews for being Jewish — supposedly rich, powerful, secretive, conspiratorial and manipulative.

The remedy — the cure — is education and assimilation. In the United States, high levels of anti-Semitism in the Hispanic population dissipate with assimilation. The Anti-Defamation League tells us that, while 12 percent of all Americans are anti-Semites, the figure for foreign-born Hispanics is an astounding 36 percent. But for Hispanics born in the United States, the figure is only 14 percent. America is adept at assimilation. Europe is lousy at it. Europe needs work.

But non-Muslim Europe needs work as well. Especially on the left, discussions and denunciations of Israel feel like a snowball with a rock in the center: Something aside from protest is being aired. Anti-Zionism may be legitimate, but it too often seems like a way of expressing anti-Semitism. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has always troubled me, but it is governed benevolently compared with the way China oppresses Tibet — and where are those demonstrations?

In researching my book, I came away in awe of anti-Semitism. It may be more durable than most of our current religions — it is older than most — and it made me wonder when it would stage one of its periodic revivals. That now seems underway and, sadly, makes my book title almost irrelevant. The question is not whether Israel is good for the Jews but whether it is necessary. That answer, increasingly, is yes

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