Low Marks for Egyptian, Israeli, US Intelligence over ISIS Surprise Offensive
The Islamic State’s massive offensive on Wednesday, July 1 should not have caught Egyptian military and security positions in northern Sinai off guard. How could Egyptian, Israeli – and most of all, US – intelligence spotters have missed the massive ISIS-Sinai’s preparations for a major military operation, less than a week after the jihadi group’s murderous strikes in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait?
The Sinai hit opened a window to a number of less-than-welcome facts about the international war on terror.
1. While the Islamists celebrated their many losses (estimated at 100 dead) as useful recruitment points, the Egyptian authorities played theirs down, admitting to 17 dead when the real figure was closer to 70.
2. The Egyptian army fought just one battle outside the key Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwaid, but failed to stage a counter-offensive against Islamist lairs in the central Sinai Jabal al-Halal Mountains, or cleanse the areas from which ISIS mounted its offensive.
3. The ISIS-Sinai arm displayed impressive planning and tactical skills. It came out of the Sinai offensive as one of the group’s most competent and dangerous military factions, more than a rival for the Iraqi and Syrian branches. By holding parts of the Bedouin town of Sheikh Zuweid near the Gaza Strip – 334 km from Cairo – for hours, the Islamists severed the Egyptian Sinai forces’ links to Egypt proper and blocked the path to reinforcements (see the map).
President El-Sisi holds back on Sinai, Libya campaigns
4. Two years after assuming power, President El-Sisi has yet to deliver on his pledge of a major Egyptian army campaign to root the Islamist terrorists out of Sinai. He has only managed small-scale strikes, notwithstanding Israel’s consent to set aside the Sinai demilitarization annex of its 1979 peace pact with Egypt and allow Cairo to deploy large-scale forces, warplanes, helicopters, tanks and artillery for this campaign.
5. The Egyptian president has held back from invading eastern Libya for his promised campaign to destroy the infrastructure of ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups and plug their primary sources of arms and funds. The coalition he formed for this operation, composed of Qatar, the UAE, Italy and France, has never taken off.
6. The US, Israeli and Egyptian intelligence failure in predicting the Sinai attack stands out starkly given that ISIS issued due warnings that it would be on the offensive during Ramadan.
America maintains at its southern Sinai base at Sharm el-Sheikh the 1st Squadron of the 112th Cavalry Regiment (whose motto is ‘Rarin to Go”), together with MQ-1B Predator drones for surveillance missions over Sinai, along the Suez Canal and at the point where Red Sea and the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba intersect.
Israel maintains round-the-clock airborne surveillance tours over Sinai by airplanes and drones and passes the intelligence they gather to Egypt.
It is hard to understand how all three spy agencies missed the hundreds of people moving around in Sinai in preparation for the massive ISIS offensive. And why were they not tipped off by their informants on the ground.