As Washington prepared for new appointments to the Obama cabinet, the US president dispatched US Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Michael Vickers to Cairo Sunday, Jan. 12 on a two-day mission to try and revitalize the counter-terror war on two key fronts: post-Qaddafi Libya and Egyptian Sinai. debkafile’s Washington sources report that President Barack Obama hastened to address these fronts, because he expected the five-month old murder of US Ambassador Christ Stevens in Benghazi by al Qaeda to come up at congressional hearings and hamper the endorsement of ex-Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and John Brennan as Central Intelligence Director. Their appointments were announced Monday, Jan. 7.
Hagel faced a preliminary storm over his attitudes on Israel and Iran, whereas Brennan, as counterterrorism adviser to the president, has been responsible for shaping administration policy in this sphere in Libya, Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.
The United States has still not taken steps against the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia group, which assassinated the ambassador and three US staffers on Sept. 11. 2012, and numbered Egyptian al Qaeda jihadis who came in from Cairo.
This cross-alliance still functions with impunity as the Libyan group enforces its control over large areas of Benghazi and eastern Libya, funded by the smuggling of arms from Libya and pumping them into the big smuggling pipelines running through Sinai via Egypt.
Jihadist terror is also rampant in Sinai. On Nov. 21, President Obama, in a phone call to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, pledged the immediate deployment of US troops for leading a comprehensive Egyptian campaign against the al Qaeda and Salafist Bedouin extremists who have settled in northern and central Sinai after driving the Egyptian administration out. This pledge was part of the ceasefire deal which ended Israel’s Gaza Strip operation. But so far, according to our military and counterterrorism sources, very little has been done except for a visit to Sinai by a small study group of American officers and servicemen.
The delay is accounted for mainly by the weighty challenges confronting Egyptian President Mohamed Mors in the last couple of months. Morso is practically the only office-holder in Cairo ready to endorse an covert military US operation in Sinai for eradicating the terrorist bane. Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah Al-Sissi was his only ally, but in recent weeks the Egyptian army has come out against an anti-al Qaeda expedition in Sinai.
The security situation there is constantly deteriorating as Egypt struggles to retain some grip on the territory. In mid-December, the defense minister in Cairo quietly issued an order, with made hardly a ripple outside Egypt, “restricting the right to buy property in Sinai to second-generation Egyptian citizens.”
This prohibition was made necessary, our sources disclose, by the land grab in force by partnerships of Persian Gulf tycoons, mainly Qatar, and Gazan Palestinian, mostly Hamas adherents. They were quietly snapping up choice coastal strips of Sinai to gain control of the peninsula’s Mediterranean and Gulf of Aqaba shores, as well as the western and eastern regions.
The Egyptian military passed the new law to save the territory from slipping out of its hands to Palestinian Hamas and Gulf oil interests. Hamas is also believed to be in cahoots with allies in the armed terrorist groups of Libya and Sinai.
Delayed American action in Sinai has produced three results:
1. The Sinai arms smuggling route (which also serves Iran) is thriving as never before. The expanded earnings of Ansar al-Sharia are bolstering its grip on power in Libya;
2. Sinai has been allowed to evolve into al Qaeda’s primary operational-logistical hub for Africa and the Middle East, its jumping-off base for action in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen;
3. In the absence of any resistance, al Qaeda is bringing its positions close to the Israeli border. All Egyptian military efforts to curtail the terrorist creep into the northern Sinai towns of El Arish and Rafah have had no effect.
Sunday, Jan. 6, a band of Salafist Bedouin came up to a parked car on the El Arish main street and shot the driver dead. debkafile reports that the victim, one of the top men in Egypt’s counter-terror campaign in northern Sinai, was on a surveillance mission in civilian dress. The terrorists knew who he was – indicating they have established a clandestine presence inside Egypt’s security services.