Al Qaeda in Sinai Has Advanced to Striking Range of the Suez Canal, Israel and Jordan

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The emphatic advisory to Israeli travelers to stay clear of their favorite Sinai resorts for this year’s High Holidays reflects incoming intelligence on the broadening threat posed by al Qaeda today. Since the Taba attacks exactly a year ago, the Islamist terrorist organization has planted a daunting infrastructure amid the inaccessible peaks of the strategic desert peninsula. Egyptian attempts to access their strongholds have been thrown back.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources report the following developments.
Al Qaeda has established local terror networks in northern Sinai – centering on el Arish, as well as strongholds in the inaccessible central mountains of the peninsula around Jebel Hillal. In all, the jihadists control roughly one-fifth of Sinai total area (61,000sq. km or 23,500sq. miles). Egyptian forces of law and order have learned not to venture into these bastions or into the areas commanded by age-old smuggler clans who currently collaborate with al Qaeda. This leaves about half of the forbidding desert peninsula inaccessible to Egyptian security forces. Today, they can only claim to control the main roads routes fringing the vast desert expanse: from Ras Sudeir down to Sharm el Sheikh along the Suez Canal and Suez Gulf shores; from the Suez Canal east to El Arish along the Mediterranean shore and from the Sharm el-Sheikh resort center north along the Gulf of Aqaba to Taba and the Israeli port of Eilat.
The spectacular, biblical landscape conceals terrorist bomb traps and roadside devices. Gunmen armed with RPG and anti-tank weapons lurk behind huge rocks in wait for any Egyptian police or security unit daring to step off a main road into one of the dry valleys dissecting the forbidding peaks.
The danger increases with the altitude. Al Qaeda has joined up with rebellious Bedouin and Palestinians to recreate the Tora Bora of Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden’s fighters fought US and Afghan forces in November 2001.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources describe al Qaeda’s Sinai 2005 bastion as better fortified than the original Tora Bora. It is peopled with more fighters and is even more impregnable. The paths leading up to peaks – some as tall as 7,500 ft – are barricaded by huge rocks under which explosive snares are concealed. Attempts to move the rocks would set off explosions and start an avalanche. Interspersed among the natural barriers are bomb traps and anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. The caves perforating the slopes are firing positions – some armed with mortars and heavy machine guns.
The Egyptian have tried large-scale assaults on the al Qaeda mountain fastnesses and failed. They were forced to retreat with heavy casualties.
According to debkafile‘s military experts, the only way for Egypt to wrest mastery of the Sinai heartland from the terrorists is by a combined aerial bombardment coupled with helicopter landings of at least two special forces brigades.
This in present circumstances is not feasible because –
1. The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty demilitarizing Sinai precludes Egyptian air force operations. In theory, Cairo can approach Jerusalem for permission, but in practice this would expose the Mubarak government to widespread Muslim opprobrium for collaborating with the Jewish state in the war against Islamic terror.
2. Egyptian intelligence does not have an exact count of the anti-air missiles in al Qaeda’s hands. The passage of a quantity of these weapons from Sinai to the Gaza Strip leads Egyptian intelligence to deduce a fairly sizeable number – enough to cause havoc with a helicopter commando drop.
3. Al Qaeda’s smuggling routes crisscross Sinai day and night, freely plied by fighters, weapons, explosives and food. These routes exploit the peninsula’s exceptional geography to run between Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and of late the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptians despite every effort have not been able to close down a single smuggling route.
This fact ties in with the kidnap alert for Israeli travelers.
Should al Qaeda succeed in abducting an Israeli, it has the organization to conceal its victim for a long period in its Sinai mountain bastion or transport him or her to another Arab country, including Iraq.
4. That al Qaeda has established a presence in the Gaza Strip is no longer a matter of speculation. Today, Israeli military intelligence AMAN and the Shin Beit are taking the new manifestation of Al Qaeda-Palestine as an offshoot of Al Qaeda-Sinai with the utmost seriousness. Foreign terrorists have been detected entering the Gaza Strip, welcomed and integrated in to the logistical infrastructures of Hizballah, Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Popular Fronts.
This is not a one-way road. Elements of Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami have been heading out of Gaza into Sinai and given the use of al Qaeda’s logistical facilities to strike unprotected Israeli holidaymakers at the Sinai resorts.
The debkafile Exclusive Map attached to this article (first displaced in DEBKA-Net-Weekly) illustrates the broad strategic thinking behind al Qaeda’s Sinai deployment. It is not just there to nab Israeli vacationers refusing to heed warnings; its terrorist units are within striking distance of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Suez Canal and the Egyptian heartland, as well providing terrorist depth for wars in Iraq and Israel.

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