Essam Haddad, national security adviser to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, has told Reuters that Egypt recently flooded a number of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt in order to cut the flow of arms in and out of the coastal enclave. “We don’t want to see these tunnels used for illegal ways of smuggling either people or weapons that can really harm Egyptian security,” Haddad said in the interview. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has condemned the closure of the tunnels.
Haddad noted Egypt’s concern that heavy arms, some of which are from Libya as well as Gaza, are being seen throughout Egypt, and in particular in the Sinai. “[W]e would not like to see arms smuggled through these tunnels either in or out, because we are now seeing in Sinai and we have captured actually across Egypt heavy arms that could be used in a very dangerous way,” the Morsi adviser said. He added: “[W]hen you see there are anti-aircraft missiles inside Egypt and anti-tank weapons inside Egypt … you will question who is doing this and why.”
According to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), “hundreds” of high quality weaponry, including long-range rockets and advanced antitank and antiaircraft missiles, from Libya and Sudan ended up in Gaza through the Sinai in 2012.
When asked whether al Qaeda-linked militants posed a threat to Egypt, Haddad told Reuters that there was no structured network, but added that the ideology of al Qaeda knows no borders.
However, numerous pieces of evidence suggesting that such a network does exist have surfaced.
Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, a number of Salafi jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda have sprouted up in the Egyptian Sinai. The terror groups have conducted attacks against the Egyptian military and policemen, Israel, international peacekeepers in the Sinai, and a pipeline transporting natural gas to Israel and Jordan. According to the Shin Bet, elements of the “global jihad” are using the Sinai as a base to wage terror attacks against Israel.
Israeli intelligence believes that most of the attacks originating in the Sinai have been carried out by Ansar Jerusalem, also known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. According to a recent report, Western officials estimate that at least several hundred jihadists, some of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, are now operating in the Sinai. Egyptian officials have also expressed concern that militants from Algeria and Libya are now operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
In recently revealed communications between Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, the head of the Nasr City terror cell, and al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, Jamal said that he had formed “groups for us inside [the] Sinai.” As Thomas Joscelyn noted in the Long War Journal, this was an “especially interesting revelation given that some jihadist groups there have openly proclaimed their allegiance to al Qaeda.”
In December 2011, a group named Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula announced its formation and pledged to “fulfill the oath” of Osama bin Laden. Then in January 2012, Ansar al Jihad swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. “To our beloved emir and honorable sheikh, Abu Muhammad Ayman al Zawahiri … from your soldiers in the beloved Sinai in the Land of the Quiver [Egypt], we give you allegiance for obedience in good and bad, in difficulty and ease, and altruism,” Ansar al Jihad said, in a statement obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
More recently, in July 2012, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a consolidation of Salafi jihadist groups, said that its June 18, 2012 cross-border attack, which killed one Israeli civilian, was “a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri” and retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden.
Over the past few months, Egyptian authorities have seized numerous weapons in and en route to the Sinai and Gaza Strip, including short-range rockets and antiaircraft and antitank missiles. On Jan. 7, Egyptian authorities foiled a car bomb plot in the city of Rafah, near Gaza; the intended target is still unknown. Following the Rafah incident, Egyptian authorities issued a security alert for the Sinai as intelligence services received information about potential attacks by extremist groups in the Sinai.
On Jan. 11, an Egyptian army officer was killed by a sniper “seemingly affiliated to extremist groups” in el Arish in the Northern Sinai. On Feb. 15, Egyptian authorities announced the seizure of two tons of explosives headed to the Sinai from Cairo. Two days later, Egyptian authorities seized a weapons cache in El Arish. “The seized weapons include 21 anti-aircraft shells, six anti-tank mines and an anti-aircraft gun,” an official said. In another incident on Feb. 17, one ton of explosives was found in a car headed from Cairo toward the Sinai.
Israel is reportedly conducting indirect negotiations with Hamas via Egyptian mediation, which have centered on easing Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip as well as border agreements between Hamas and Egypt. This past week Israeli delegations visited Cairo twice for discussions on security issues. An Egyptian delegation is due in Israel in the coming days, according to Ma’an News Agency.