While American, Russian and Iranian attention has been obsessively focused on Syrian President Bashar Assad and his use of chemical weapons, a new Middle East leader, unattached to any of those powers, is quickly making his mark in Egypt.
Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has taken over a million-strong army from the ageing generals, who spent their time tending their business empires, and within three months transformed it into an effective fighting machine.
This army, operating at warp speed, is accomplishing three assignments set by the new Egyptian strongman:
1. Support for his ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi as president;
2. Backing for his campaign of detentions against key Brotherhood figures, placing its top political, religious and administrative echelons behind bars. El-Sisi is waiting for the right moment to finally smash this Islamist movement for good
3. The execution of a large-scale military offensive to eradicate Islamist terrorist networks in Sinai. This offensive, virtually overlooked by the world media, is described by DEBKA Weekly’s military experts as the biggest and most impressive counter-terror operation ever undertaken in the Middle East against al Qaeda.
The biggest anti-al Qaeda military campaign seen in the Middle East
The Egyptian leader is not just fighting to rid the peninsula of 10,000 lawless Salafist Islamists and smugglers; He is reshaping the geo-strategic landscape of Sinai by separating it from the Gaza Strip and moving its focal point to the Suez Canal region, with its cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez.
To this end, military engineers are employed in massive earthworks as armored units and air force planes depopulate large “security zones” in order to divide the Gaza Strip from Egyptian Sinai. They are at the same time building new bridges and tunnels across the Suez Canal to reinforce the peninsula’s links to Egypt’s heartland.
A security fence studded with surveillance cameras and sensors and guarded by mixed ground, sea and air units is being set up to secure Suez Canal shipping against attack.
The American and Israeli officers watching the Egyptian general at work say that the Sinai landscape is unrecognizable. He clearly remains determined to preserve his independence of foreign powers, accepting only assistance and operating capital from his Saudi and Arabian Gulf backers.
Our Cairo sources say that El-Sisi has not missed US President Barack Obama’s readiness to embrace the Shiite rulers of Iran and his widening breach with Riyadh and the Gulf Emirates. He expects the remodeled, toughened and indeed reinvented Egyptian army to occupy an important place on the changing Middle East map.