There has been much talk of partnership between Israel and moderate Arab states, Saudi Arabia Jordan and Egypt. Addressing radicalism in the Sinai Peninsula, the land bridge connecting Africa with the Middle East, presents these countries with a golden opportunity to unify. Development of an enhanced buffer zone at the Sinai/Gaza border, bomb resistant pipelines, and reinforced ports in Egypt and Israel provides additional opportunity for this union.
ISIS and the Syrian civil war dominate headlines in the Middle East. Through aggressive PR, ISIS has been attracting followers worldwide. Victory for moderate, pro-Western nations in the in the Sinai would undermine the confidence and charisma of ISIS, directing potential followers away from its radical path.
Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan all have much to gain in fortifying the Gaza border, providing better protection of pipelines, and greater fortification of ports in Israel and Egypt. The effectiveness of the Suez Canal, through which 8 percent of global trade travels, is undercut because of radicalism in Yemen and Somalia. Safety of Israeli and Egyptian ports, from which goods to the West are shipped, are challenged by Hamas, Al Qaida, and the ISIS conflict in Syria. Saudi Arabia, struggling with radical groups like Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula must counter obstruction from Yemen to its South and the Strait of Hormuz to its North. The Saudis depend on passage of fuels to safe ports in the Mediterranean as well. Jordan, having very little of its own natural resources, contends with Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood, and relies heavily on safe transport of fuels from Israel and Egypt.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Hamas, and the local Bedouin population are the most important actors involved in the Sinai conflict. After the fall of Mohammad Morsi in 2011, many radical Islamists in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, see violence as their only means of gaining power. This was highlighted by the return of Ayman Al Zawahiri to Egypt, as well reinvigorated Al Qaida presence in the peninsula. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, rising to prominence in 2013, is a local branch of Al Qaida, recently affiliated with ISIS. ABM gained support from radical Islamists after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some in the Sinai say they have seen Muhammad Al Zawahiri, Ayman’s brother, working with ABM. On a positive note, if ABM becomes too closely linked with ISIS, it may lose credibility as specifically representing Egyptian Islamists disheartened by the fall of Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Victory against ABM would further hasten this.
Recently, ABM used rockets smuggled from the Palestinian border through Hamas tunnels. It attempted an assassination on Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim in Cairo in September, 2013. On October 24th, ABM also attacked a security checkpoint in the Sinai, killing 33 Egyptian security personnel.
Hamas, an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood based in Gaza, helped enable the car bombing in the October 24th attack conducted by ABM. Black market tunnel trade and logistics at the Gaza border is one tangible way that it can be linked to Al Qaida and ISIS in the Sinai. Hamas may have an agreement with the Palestinian group Jaish al-Islam to train people to fight in Yemen, Syria, and the Sinai. Since its leadership began in 2007, tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza have contributed $230 million in monthly revenue. Radical allegiances are not as simple as Sunni versus Shia. Although Hamas is a radical Sunni group, it has been linked with Iran for funding, weaponry, strategy, and training.
When stakes against Western targets are high, groups funding Sunni and Shia radicalism unite. In the past, the military wing of Hamas has imported Iranian-made long range Fajr-5 rockets. It has been suspected recently that Iranians linked to Hamas were working with ABM to strategize deadly attacks on the peninsula. Recently, the discovery of a Klos-C missile, as well as 40 rockets and 400,000 bullets were intercepted in the region and thought to be in transit to Gaza.Terence Rosenthal