The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant moved ominously close to Israel’s borders Wednesday, July 1 – not as predicted in the north, but in the south, from the Sinai Peninsula. There, ISIS followed up on its Ramadan terror outrages in France, Tunisia, Kuwait and Kobani, with a massive assault on Egyptian forces and reportedly capturing the northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwaid close to the Israeli and Gaza Strip borders. Confirmation of this would mean that the MFO facility at Gora is under ISIS siege. It would also mean that the Islamists had captured their first Egyptian town, a victory comparable to seizure of the Iraqi city of Ramadi. In the fierce 10-hour battle for the town, at least 200 Egyptian soldiers, terrorists and civilians were killed.
Not just a terrorist attack, ISIS launched a full-scale military offensive, starting with mortar fire and suicide bombings against five Egyptian military checkpoints.
Using a tactic similar to that employed in the capture of the Iraqi town of Ramadi last month, ISIS gunmen followed this initial assault by riding in on minivans, backed by heavy mortar fire, to storm the positions held by stunned Egyptian troops. Altogether some 20 Egyptian army positions were attacked in and around Sheikh Zuwaid.
Egyptian troop reinforcements setting out from El Arish to the northeast to aid the beleaguered force, went up on mine and bomb traps secretly planted around their camps and police stations. Egyptian Apache assault helicopters striking the ISIS force themselves faced ground fire from shoulder-borne anti-air missiles.
The Islamists are additionally said to have taken Egyptian prisoners as hostages.
As the fighting grew fierce during Wednesday, Israel shut its border crossings with Egypt and the Gaza Strip, and sent reinforcements south in case the jihadis launched an attack on Israel from northern Sinai.
Our military sources also report that US Middle East forces located in Jordan and at Sharm el-Sheikh are on the ready in case the Islamic State decides to attack the US officers and men at the Multinational Force (MFO) facility in Sinai, which is located near the Sheikh Zuwaid battlefield.
The ISIS Sinai offensive is part and parcel of the reign of terror launched last Friday by Yassin Sahli when he beheaded his French boss, and Seifeddine Rezgui, who murdered 39 holidaymakers on a Tunisian beach. Standing ready for the Islamist offensive in Sinai were the jihadis of the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which recently declared Sinai a province of the Islamic State and took an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
ISIS draws on two additional major sources for its fighting manpower: the infrastructure it established in turbulent Libya for training and arming jihadis to cross the Egyptian border into Sinai; and the fatal attraction its radicalizing ideology holds for young Muslims who are taught that the brutal murder of Islam’s foes is a cleansing and purifying act.