Israel’s internal security organization the Shin Bet – roughly the equivalent of America’s FBI – has set up a new unit to confront the growing threat that jihadi groups in Egypt’s increasingly anarchic Sinai Peninsula may attack Israel.
Intelligence and military analysts have increasing emphasized the scope of the threat. National Journal recently quoted experts describing scenarios under which security in the Sinai worsened and Israel was “forced to react to a spectacular attack.” Haaretz reports that some 15 different Salafi groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, as well as other foreign and homegrown jihadi groups, are now operating in Sinai. Some are articularly targeting Israel, though experts disagree on which groups are active and what the extent of their activities are.
The resources being provided to the new Shin Bet unit indicate the Israelis are treating the threat as substantial:
The Shin Bet has created a new unit that deals solely with foiling attacks from Sinai. This unit’s resources and manpower are currently on a par with those devoted to thwarting attacks north of Ramallah in the West Bank – and some sources say they are even greater.
The proliferation of Salafi groups, affiliated with the global jihad movement, in Sinai is a development of the last three to five years. The Sinai Bedouin were for years relatively secular, but they have recently undergone a process of accelerated Islamization. Israeli intelligence sources cite several reasons for this, including increased exposure to the Internet in general and Islamist websites in particular, the arrival of foreign clerics, and their growing alienation from the central government in Cairo.
Islamist gunmen recently ambushed two minibuses of off-duty Egyptian policemen in the northern Sinai, conducting “execution-style” killings of 25 officers.