Israel Thursday July 11 approved a major Egyptian offensive for curbing the mounting aggression in Sinai of armed Salafis gangs, Muslim Brotherhood raiders and Hamas terrorists. A day earlier, Egypt’s Second Army commander, Maj.-Gen. Ahmad Wasfi, who is assigned to lead the offensive, escaped unhurt from an attempt on his life. Some of his bodyguards and soldiers were killed.
Maj.-Gen. Wasfi arrived in Sinai just four days ago to set up headquarters in the northern town of El Arish. He was targeted for the first attempt by radical Islamists to murder a high-ranking Egyptian general. As a close associate of Defense Minister Gen. Fattah El-Sisi, Wasfi took part in the military coup which ousted President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on July 3.
Around 30 Islamist gunmen laid in ambush for his convoy Wednesday, debkafile’s sources report. As the cars drove past Sheikh Zuwayed, southwest of El Arish, they came under a hail of RPG anti-tank rockets and explosive devices. A minivan then drove the length of the convoy shooting heavy machine guns and armor-piercing bullets, trapping the Egyptian troops and officers in the blazing vehicles and gunning down those who tried to escape.
…Of deep concern to the Egyptian and Israeli high commands is the Salafist assailants’ prior knowledge of the timing and route taken by Gen. Wasfi’s convoy in Sinai, because it means that Islamist terrorists have penetrated Egypt’s military apparatus in Sinai and gained an inside track on its activities.
With Israel’s consent (in line with the 1979 peace treaty), the Egyptian army last week withdrew substantial strength from the Suez Canal towns of Port Said and Ismailia and deployed the troops in Sinai ahead of the offensive.
On the other side of the Sinai border, Israeli Defense Forces are heavily deployed along the Sinai and Gaza border fences and in the southernmost sector of Eilat.
They are on high alert on intelligence that the armed Islamists plan to retaliate for an Egyptian assault by attacking Israel.
There is also concern that such attacks would draw in radical Palestinian Hamas fighters. They have nothing to lose after their Muslim Brotherhood patrons in Cairo were overthrown and have little to expect from the army. Indeed, the generals in Cairo suspect Hamas of abetting the Brotherhood’s declared “uprising” by organizing a center of armed resistance in Sinai as its launching base for a combined Islamist revolt against the new regime in Egypt.
For some days, Egyptian troops have been working non-stop to block the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip used hitherto to secrete weapons and fighters into Gaza. But now, the Egyptians are concerned to cut down the traffic of fighting men and weapons moving in the opposite direction to reinforce the Sinai Salafists.
A senior Egyptian official said Thursday that at least 150 Ezz a-Din al-Qassam operatives (members of the Gaza-based Hamas military wing) were seen heading into Sinai via the tunnels. Over the past few days, Egyptian security forces have killed and arrested around 200 militants in the Sinai Peninsula, killed 32 Hamas operatives and arrested another forty-five.