Heads rolled in Cairo Wednesday, Aug. 8, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in conjunction with military council chief Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, reshuffled the top levels of the Egyptian army, intelligence and police over continuing armed attacks on Egyptian military and police in Sinai.
Intelligence chief Gen. Mourad Mowafi took early retirement, replaced in the interim by Maj. Gen. Mohamed Shehata, who liaised between Cairo and Jerusalem in negotiations last year for the release of Gilead Shalit; Mohamed Osama now heads the security directorate in Cairo.
Morsi also dismissed the governor of North Sinai, Abdel-Wahab Mabrouk, and Field Marshal Tantawi fired Maj. Gen. Hamdy Badeen as the commander of Egypt's military police. No replacements were named. According to state-run Nile News TV channel, Morsi has appointed Major General Hamed Zaky as the head of Republican Guards and Major General Maged Mostafa Kamel as the head of Egypt's Central Security Forces.
According to debkafile’s military sources, the Egyptian president was quick to grasp that urgent action was needed to present the appearance of an expeditious response to the blows the Egyptian military and Egyptian pride suffered Sunday, Aug. 5, when Islamist terrorists overran the Egyptian Mansoura facility in North Sinai killing 17 soldiers.
Armored vehicles and more Apache gunships were streaming into northern Sinai after Egypt's military claimed that a campaign Tuesday night against militants in Sinai was "a complete success and will continue." He reported that elements from the armed forces and interior ministry supported by the air force began a plan to restore security by pursuing and targeting armed terrorist elements in Sinai, and it has accomplished this task with complete success."
The military will "continue implementing this plan," added the statement.
debkafile’s military sources report that this campaign was waged in response to a fresh terrorist attack, the second in three days, on three Egyptian checkpoints. It did not amount to more than strikes at a couple of Islamist targets. Those sources doubt that 20 gunmen were killed as reported.
Morsi clearly hopes that by sacking top officials and limited military actions he will appease the street and still protest. There are no signs as yet that a major crackdown to cleanse Sinai of terrorists is contemplated in Cairo.
debkafile reported earlier Wednesday:
Egyptian attack helicopters went into action Wednesday morning, Aug. 8, firing missiles to break up pitched battles between Salafi Bedouin gunmen and the three Egyptian positions and checkpoints they attacked overnight at Sheikh Zuwayed east of El Arish. Witnesses report at least 20 Salafists killed and some Egyptian casualties among officers and men. Not just helicopters, but according to some reports Egyptian fighter jets also took off from El Arish airfield to beat back the Islamist offensive, the second in three days. It was the first time in the 39 years since the October 1973 Egyptian-Israeli Sinai war that Egyptian warplanes were deployed in the skies of the peninsula.
Sunday’s attack in which 17 Egyptian soldiers were killed and the Israeli border breached appears to have been the start of a general Sinai offensive by well-armed Salafi Bedouin gangs, adherents and followers of Al Qaeda. Northern Sinai has become their first battlefield.
Yet until now, debkafile’s military and counter-terror sources report that the regular Egyptian army has not initiated an offensive campaign against the Salafi gunmen proliferating in the Sinai Peninsula. While opting for a defensive posture, the soldiers were forced to fight back when they were attacked early Wednesday.
The army has in fact decided to focus on establishing a buffer zone around El Arish to sterilize it against assault. It has carefully avoided going after the Islamist terrorists’ strongholds at Jebel El Halal and Al-Mahdia, deep in the central Sinai mountains. Both house small training facilities where Bedouin fighters were instructed in the “arts” of coordinated terror tactics which they employed Sunday against Egyptian and Israeli targets.
The Israel Defense Ministry’s political coordinator Amos Gilead defined Salafi Bedouins’ goal in a radio interview Wednesday as being “to drown the Israeli-Egyptian peace pact in rivers of blood” while dragging the entire Middle East into armed strife.
According to debkafile’s sources, the Salafi gunmen who broke through to the Israeli side of the Sinai border Sunday in an armored truck packed with half a ton of explosives were not after an Israeli civilian location but the base of the IDF’s Bedouin Reconnaissance battalion nearby. They planned to repeat there the massacre they had just perpetrated at the Egyptian Mansoura base on the other side of the border.
Had they succeeded, the Salafist terrorists would have accomplished three strategic feats:
1. The first simultaneous terrorist attack on two armies. It would have toppled the Egyptian and Israeli security deployments along their common border in Sinai;
2. A mortal blow to the Bedouin unit, which is an important buttress of Israel’s combat array around the Gaza Strip;
3. Bedouin would have triumphed against Bedouin, so sparking a vendetta between the tribes of Sinai and the Israel Negev.