There are two potential conditions ahead: one in which Israel is basically on her own, apart from some American rhetoric, and one in which the US leverages our relationship with Egypt to deter further remilitarization of the Sinai.
We can’t achieve this latter condition by standing aside and making sanctimonious statements to the media. But we could do it by strengthening our counter-terrorism cooperation with Egypt, and taking Morsi as his word that he really does think transnational jihadis roaming the Sinai is a bad thing. Help him rid the Sinai of them, and thus undercut the justification for remilitarizing it.
Morsi is a fact now, and besides having a border with Israel, he has the Suez Canal and long frontage on the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It would be very foolish not to remain engaged with him. But more than that, it is not good for US or regional security for America to be passive and unpredictable in this area of the world. We already have established lines of engagement with both Egypt and Israel. We should use them to deter remilitarization of the Sinai.
Arms and the sea
We should also be doing everything possible to prevent the arming of Hamas. It is not clear whether both of the attacks on the Israeli infantry patrols last week were made with anti-tank missiles, or if only the second one was. But Hamas has used them before, not only against Israeli Merkava tanks during Cast Lead, but against an Israeli school bus with children unloading from it in April of 2011. The attack range and level of damage in the jeep incident on Saturday suggests that the same anti-tank missile – the 9M133 Kornet (NATO designation AT-14 SPRIGGAN) – was used.
The IDF may figure out where Saturday’s anti-tank missile was produced, but we don’t know for certain right now. We do know the Kornet makes Hamas much more tactically effective (see discussion in my piece, first link in last paragraph). We also know that Iran started producing her own version of the Kornet in July 2012. So Hamas has at least one supplier that is eager to continue sending it weapons of this kind.
Location of Egyptian ports Iran was also reported in 2011 to have spirited weapons from Muammar Qadhafi’s stash out of Libya, which would be another obvious source of arms for Hamas. It is worth noting that known events suggest a pathway by which Iran could ship Libyan weapons to Hamas. I wrote in late October about Iranian cargo ships plying a circuit between Iran, Egypt, and Libyaover the past year, and the main Egyptian port frequented by these ships is Damietta, on the eastern side of Egypt’s Mediterranean Sea coast. (One of the suspect ships, M/V Tandis, pulled into Damietta on 1 November. These operations continue. The Iranian ships are fraudulently flying the flag of Tanzania. More here.)
Damietta is the port through which, in 2009, Iran effected the transshipment of arms intended for Hezbollah to M/V Francop, a cargo ship operated by a reportedly unwitting European shipper. Security and customs are managed in Damietta by a private port-administration firm, a situation in which – as long as the host nation isn’t forcing the issue – the enforcement of sanctions often takes a back seat to simply weighing cargo and assessing fees. Damietta was modernized from 2007 to 2009 by the commercial consortium now running the port – whose major investors are Kuwait, France, and China – and it’s a big money-maker for Egypt.
These particular administrative factors aren’t necessarily implicated in the delivery of arms to Hamas. But Damietta’s location is favorable for primitive delivery methods, like transferring weapons cargo to fishing vessels, and thence to small boats, in which Hamas and its benefactors are known to engage.
That said, Damietta is not as close to Gaza as is the port of El-Arish, in an area where Egypt has been sending additional military assets in the last couple of weeks to combat increasing terrorist attacks on Egyptian forcesthere. The trend of attacks in the vicinity of El-Arish amounts to a creeping “geographization” effort in the Gaza-Israel dynamic. The conflict now is notjust “about” terror attacks against Israel, and counter-attacks by Israel on the terrorists, in a static geography. In the last month or so, it has become about pushing for a new geographic access point – i.e., El-Arish – one that would benefit terrorists in Gaza and open a new vulnerability for Israel.