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 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.