Taba bombing shows Sinai terrorists won’t go quietly
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Taba bombing shows Sinai terrorists won’t go quietly

Al-Qaeda-linked cell that enjoys good ties with Hamas signals that it's not been felled by Egypt's punishing counter-terror campaign

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

An image made from a video provided by the Israeli Airports Authority shows smoke from the bombing of the bus carrying South Korean sightseers near the tip of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba Sunday Feb. 16, 2014.(photo credit: AP Photo/Israeli Airports Authority)
An image made from a video provided by the Israeli Airports Authority shows smoke from the bombing of the bus carrying South Korean sightseers near the tip of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba Sunday Feb. 16, 2014.(photo credit: AP Photo/Israeli Airports Authority)

Sunday’s deadly attack on South Korean tourists in Taba does not come as good news for Hamas. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the group responsible for the attack, has been operating for years in the Sinai Peninsula. It has the support of the local Bedouin population, and currently enjoys direct aid from some of the Hamas military chiefs in Gaza.

Hamas has been trying to shake off any connections to it in recent months. But according to an Egyptian security official who spoke with The Times of Israel on Monday, there is no doubt that even today, Hamas maintains close ties with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. “We are aware of this, and are operating accordingly.”

To date, the official said, Egyptian security forces have destroyed 1,275 tunnels between Egypt and Hamas-run Gaza.This already impressive number can only be expected to rise in the near future.

Egypt knows that its counter-terrorism efforts in the Sinai lead terror cells in the peninsula to carry out increasingly violent acts in a bid to show how far they are from submitting.

In the past two months, al-Qaeda-linked jihadists, with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis at the forefront, have been retreating from the Sinai as a result of the military pressure, and are trying to carry out attacks in the heart of Egypt.

But the bombing Sunday in Taba proves that these organizations are still far from giving up on the Sinai, and was likely designed to display their vitality.

The wreckage of the bus blown up near the Taba crossing on the Egypt-Israel border, February 16, 2014 (photo credit: AFP)
The wreckage of the bus blown up near the Taba crossing on the Egypt-Israel border, February 16, 2014 (photo credit: AFP)

The attack on the tourist bus is the latest in a series of dozens of strikes from extremist Muslim groups meant to damage one of the two most important income sources in Egypt — tourism.

In Cairo, it’s clear that the terrorists would not stop at just tourism, but are already gunning for the primary income source, the Suez Canal. This is what is generating the sense of urgency in military operations in the Sinai.

For months, the army has been involved in a concerted effort to strike the hundreds of terrorist operatives in the peninsula. There have been some significant successes, including killing the heads of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and other organizations.

In the past few days, the Egyptian Army carried out an operation in the small town of al-Mahdiya, a hub for terrorist groups. During the operation, a few tunnels that led to the border with Gaza more than two kilometers away were destroyed. Egyptian forces even destroyed the house at the entrance to one of the tunnels in an attempt to send a message to the local Bedouin population.

“This is a never-ending war,” the security official said. “We are paying dearly but we are not stopping our efforts for a second.”

He also said that the attack Sunday at the Taba crossing was meant to send a message that al-Qaeda will strike not only at Egypt, but at Israel and Jordan too. In order to deal with the terror in the Sinai effectively, he concluded, what’s needed is a joint effort from all three countries.

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