President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi was spurred Sunday, April 12, to make a clean sweep of his top military intelligence, navy and Second Field Army command (responsible for Sinai and the Suez Canal) by another two deadly attacks in northern Sinai by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the lslamic State’s local branch. They claimed 13 deaths, seven of them Egyptian troops, including two officers, and injured more than 50.
The Sinai terrorists have played havoc with Sinai security since pledging loyalty to and gained support from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Egyptian military, even after being substantially reinforced and imposing a state of emergency, has been unable to stem the deadly spiral and paid for it with a heavy toll of casualties.
In the first attack Sunday, six soldiers, including two officers, were killed when a roadside bomb struck their armored vehicle traveling south of el-Arish, the capital of North Sinai. Twelve hours later, a suicide car bomber
detonated his vehicle at the entrance of a large police station in el-Arish, killing seven people, including five policemen, and injuring at least 40, many of them civilians.
In a third smaller attack, militants clashed with soldiers at a mobile checkpoint in Rafah, south of el-Arish, wounding one police officer and two soldiers.
Saturday, April 11, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdas, using the methods of its new parent, released a video clip depicting an Egyptian soldier being shot dead and the decapitation of an Egyptian civilian. Both victims were snatched during an attack on April 2, which left 15 soldiers dead, on an Egyptian army position in the El Arish vicinity.
debkafile’s military sources report that northern Sinai, due to the increasing frequency and scale of terrorist attacks, is beginning to resemble Baghdad, which on that same Sunday was struck by four ISIS car bombs and other devices, which killed at least 12 people and injured dozens.
Before the thunder of the blasts died down in Sinai, the Egyptian president announced a major reshuffle of his military, security and intelligence ranks.
The most senior officer to be sacked was military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Salah El-Badry. He was replaced by Gen. Mohamed al-Shahat, a former commander of the Second Field Army, which is the current backbone of the army force fighting the Islamists terrorists in northern Sinai.
Gen. Nasser al-Assi is the new commander of the Second Army. Our military sources report that al-Assi spent some months in northern Sinai on a personal assignment on behalf of the president and returned to Cairo with new recommendations for combating the terrorists.
In another key change, Rear Admiral Osama El-Gendy was replaced as commander of the Egyptian Navy by Rear Admiral Osama Mounir.
The navy’s role is increasingly prominent since Egyptian warships were deployed in the last two weeks off the coast of Yemen to secure the strategically vital Bab el-Mandab Strait — the gateway to the Suez Canal – against Iranian-backed Houthi rebel control. Their guns have been trained on the Yemeni port of Aden in a running barrage to prevent the rebels and their allies, the mutinous Yemeni army’s 212nd Brigade, from overrunning the town.
The Navy’s role in the Yemen war makes a change of commanders in mid-combat highly unusual
However, it had become just as urgent at this stage to shift Rear Adm El-Gendy from the Navy to the top post in the Suez Canal Authority, to take charge of one of the most important seaways in the world, which had became a highway from the rampant smuggling of the arms and fighters nourishing ISIS terrorist outposts in Sinai.
debkafile reports that ships from Libya and Jordan carry the contraband by sea and unload it at secret dropping-off points on the Sinai Peninsula’s western Mediterranean and the eastern Gulf of Aqaba coasts. Some of the goods are conveyed from Libya via the Suez Canal via the towns of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, whence smuggling rings based on the banks of the waterway collect them by boat.
Tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Sinai are also an important smuggling route for supplying terrorist groups. The Egyptian military reshuffle was accompanied by an amendment to the penal code by presidential decree which raised the penalty for building or using cross-border tunnels to life in jail. The penalty also applies to people with knowledge of tunnels who fail to report them to the authorities. The Egyptian government was authorized to seize buildings at the top of tunnels and equipment for digging them.