The Sinai Tarabin Bedouin Dose ISIS with Its Own Medicine

Tarabin, the most important Bedouin tribe in Sinai, has declared total war on the Islamic State’s local affiliate.
This local vendetta might not be of great consequence, except that these Arab nomads are reported by DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources to have managed a feat which has so far eluded every conventional army: They have finally got the jihadists running scared.
In the first rounds of this feud, the Sinai Bedouin have come off best by turning the jihadists’ most brutal tactics against them. Without many thousands of troops and billion-dollar budgets, the Bedouin have proved that the jihadists are just as crushed as their victims when subjected to their own murderous atrocities. In one instance, the Tarabin burned an Islamic captive alive.
And using inhuman acts to instill fear and dread in their prey works both ways.
The Trump administration is investing $1.3 billion a year in military assistance for the 450,000-strong Egyptian army. President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi says this is not enough to sustain the war on terror.
This aid package, awarded for more than two decades, was designed to keep Cairo within America’s sphere of influence in the Middle East, preserve the 38-years old Egyptian-Israeli peace accord and secure international shipping on the Suez Canal.
But since 2014, a large portion of US assistance to Egypt is dedicated to the Egyptian army’s war on the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis extremist organization, which in 2016 pledged loyalty to ISIS and was renamed the ISIS Sinai Province. Egypt has assigned its Second and Third Armies, along with 22,500 members of the Border Guard commando unit, to defeating ISIS and rooting it out of its Sinai strongholds. Israel has extended permission for Egyptian air force combat operations in the peninsula, although the territory was demilitarized under their 1979 peace accord. The United and Israel both provide intelligence support.
But notwithstanding the funding, the air support and the intelligence input, the Egyptian army has so far failed to thrash a gang of terrorists estimated to be no larger than 600 to 1,000 fighters, many of them local Bedouin tribesman.
Worst still, the terrorists have been able to go from strength to strength. Their three-year record of wanton death and destruction is impressive:
In 2014, they downed an Egyptian mi-17 transport helicopter over the peninsula, reportedly with a surface-to-air missile, killing five persons.
In 2015, they destroyed an M60 battle tank, going on to sink an Egyptian patrol boat off the northern Sinai coast of El-Arish, using Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles against both targets. The same year, ISIS took responsibility for blowing up the Russian MetroJet airliner in midair, killing all 224 civilians and crew aboard on their return from a holiday at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Following those “coups,” the jihadis began leaping out of Sinai for raids in Egyptian cities, seeking prey among Egyptian security personnel and the indigenous Christian Coptic community, Egypt’s largest minority of 12-15 million souls.
On April 9, 2017, the Islamist terrorists hit Coptic churches in Cairo and Alexandria, slaughtering 47 Christians.
Then, on April 18, ISIS-Sinai made its first major mistake. An armed gang, confident of the Islamic State’s unchallenged sway over central Sinai, went after Saint Catherine’s Monastery with a view to massacring the monks and burning down the ancient shrine.
Built in 548 and 565 at a location considered by Jewish and Christian tradition to be the foot of Biblical Mount Sinai, it is one of the oldest continuously working Christian monasteries in the world, part of the Eastern Orthodox Church and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Posted around Saint Catherine’s is a tent encampment. It is the dwelling of the Tarabin tribe, which cherishes its historic role as guardians of the Sinai monastery.
For weeks, ISIS had been burning Tarabin tents in this vicinity and poaching from their flocks. The tribesmen put on extra guards. When those guards identified the assailants, they tipped off Egyptian security forces, which lay in wait for them to strike.
That ambush trapped the jihadists in time to save the ancient monastery, the monks and the priceless relics they guard.
However, it was also the match that kindled a major conflagration in the Sinai Peninsula, leaving the organized players on the sidelines. Their pride and honor as guardians impugned by the monastery attack, the Tarabin had long been seething over ISIS inroads on their tribal lands in northern Sinai for hounding Egyptian forces and butchering Christians.
The Tarabin there and then declared war on the Islamic State, determined to give no quarter.
This was no idle threat. From the 19th century, this tribe has been counted the most powerful and populous Bedouin community in the region; its estimated half a million members branch out into the Negev of southern Israel and are to be found in the Egyptian towns of Cairo, Ismailia, Giza, Al Sharqia and Suez; as well as in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gaza Strip.
In 2004, Israel built a township called Tirabin al-Sana to accommodate members of the al-Sana clan of the Tarabin tribe.
Their methods of warfare are no less barbaric than the infamous practices of the Islamic State. They rarely take prisoners. Video clips of a jihadi being burned to death and other atrocities are making the rounds across Sinai. In the last few days, these tribal fighters planted hidden ambush squads to waylay the enemy as it moves across the Peninsula. The tribal fighters’ knowledge of every rock, cranny, path and cave in a land which is mostly unpopulated wilderness is intimate and unmatched.
On Tuesday, May 2, Sinai Tarabin tribal fighters caught a group of ISIS terrorists unawares in northern Sinai, not far from Rafah on the Gaza Strip border. They killed eight of the trespassers. This time, they took prisoners to an unknown fate.

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