- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The recent violence and chaos on the border separating Gaza from Egypt should serve in part as a wake-up call about the jihadist threat emanating from the Sinai Peninsula, which has become a recruiting ground for al Qaeda and, increasingly, an infiltration route into Israel. After months of plotting, the Hamas regime that controls Gaza engineered the destruction of part of the border fence with Egypt on Jan. 23, opening a gap that permitted the flow of weapons and upwards of 200,000 people across the border. Since that time, Egypt has periodically moved to seal the border, but Israeli officials say the on-and-off nature of the closures has permitted terrorists to join the Gazans entering Egypt to obtain supplies. Once in Egyptian territory, they make their way to less-defended areas of the Sinai and cross into Israel to stage attacks.

No one denies that there has been substantial arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza since Israel withdrew from that territory two-and-a-half years ago. Israeli security forces say that, since the border was breached last month, the problem has worsened, as Hamas has smuggled anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles and long-range rockets from Egypt into Gaza. Those weapons in turn are fired at Israeli towns located near Gaza — more than 400 such rockets and missiles have been fired into Israel since New Year’s Day.

But Gaza is only part of the security problem in the region. Located next door, the Sinai has become the soft underbelly of terror — and a huge security problem for Egypt and Israel and for the tens of thousands of foreign tourists that visit its resorts each year. There are also approximately 1,800 members of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), the Sinai-based international peacekeeping force based in the Sinai to monitor compliance with the security provisions in the 1979 peace treaty signed by Egypt and Israel. Americans comprise the largest MFO contingent.

The modern era of terrorism came to Gaza on Oct. 7, 2004, when the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al Qaeda-affiliated organization, killed 34 persons and injured 171 in a resort city. Al Qaeda offshoots were also behind a series of bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh on July 23, 2005, which left 88 dead and wounded more than 200 in the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s history. The following month, two Canadian members of the MFO were wounded when their vehicle was bombed. On April 24, 2006, three bombs exploded at another Sinai resort, killing 23 persons and wounding more than 80. Shortly afterward, several suicide bombers blew themselves up in unsuccessful attempts to kill Egyptian policemen and members of the MFO.

In the past year, Gaza-based terrorists have used the Sinai as an infiltration route into Israel. On Jan. 29, 2007, a Gaza-based suicide bomber who entered Israel through the Sinai blew himself at a bakery in Eilat, killing three people. Two more terrorists from Gaza, who remain at large, infiltrated Israel from Sinai earlier this month. Israeli officials say there are as many as 20 terror cells in Sinai preparing to launch attacks on Israel, and late last month terror alerts on the Egyptian border reached their highest level since the second intifada began in September 2000. Dealing with this growing jihadist danger is expected to be a top priority for Israel and Egypt in coming months.

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