The dust had hardly settled after the Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated group, Ansar Beit El Maqdis (now renamed Wilyat Sinai), killed 65 Egyptian soldiers in a surprise attack on 15 military bases last week when two days later the group launched three Grad missiles towards Israel. The rockets were launched from the Sinai Peninsula in a deliberate attempt by the group to draw Israel into the their fight with Egypt, Israeli security officials said.
Israel has a 150 miles border with the Sinai Peninsula.
In a rare attack from Egyptian soil, the group said it fired three rockets into southern Israel in retaliation for what it says is Israeli support for the Egyptian army.
An Israeli military spokesman said that the rockets fired from Egypt’s violence-plagued Sinai exploded inside Israeli territory in the Negev region on Friday without causing casualties or material damage.
According to Homeland Security Today Contributing Writer Dave Sloggett, “terrorist attacks in Egypt before 2009 were occasional (sporadic), but no emergent pattern.”
However, he noted that the numbers of attacks increased significantly in 2013, as shown below:
2009 – 6
2010 – 8
2011 – 64
2012 – 82
2013 – 637
2014 – 396
2015 – 248 (Year January to end of June) annualized 500 is the same pattern continues.
“This is the backdrop to the situation in Egypt,” Sloggett said, noting a, “Steady climb from 209 to 2013 when the Egyptian Army started to take serious action to correct a deteriorating situation.”
Rocket attacks on the neighboring cities of Eilat in Israel, and Aqaba in Jordan, have been a tactic used by militants from Islamist groups like Hamas and organizations linked to Al Qaeda because of the relative ease of launching rocket attacks against these two cities from adjacent desert areas.
“In recent months the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has managed to position itself as the most significant threat to regional stability in the Middle East,” said Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on international terrorism and head of the program on terrorism at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.
However, Schweitzer pointed out to Homeland Security Today, the world has the impression ISIS controls the Sinai, which is not the case. The jihadist group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, which is affiliated with ISIS, has been carrying out these terrorist operations for a considerable amount of time. Since the two groups are affiliated, Ansar Beit Al Maqdis’s operational abilities have improved with the backing of ISIS.
Schweitzer posited whether, in light of these latest developments, ISIS is indeed a rising Islamic jihadist force about to seize control of several countries in the region as part of its plan to establish an Islamic caliphate, or whether it is an organization with limited capabilities vis-a-vis its far reaching ambitions whose pretensions exceed its real strength and are derived from its sophisticated social media strategy.
According to Schweitzer, Israel is not currently a top priority for ISIS, Al Qaeda or Jabhat Al Nusra. Yet, in light of the recent ISIS-linked rocket attacks, and since jihadist organizations regard Israel as a partner in the Western coalition, they may choose to undertake action against Israerl at an earlier stage than originally planned.
“Despite this risk,” he added, “it is best for Israel to avoid initiating premature military measures against them, as long as it is not forced into an operation in order to thwart direct action against it. Israel should leave this task to the broad-based international coalition assembled against these organizations, while still contributing to the success of the mission assuming neither a high profile nor a leading role."
“Rocket fire on Israel’s south is liable to escalate, even against the will of all the major players in the region,” added Amos Harel, military correspondent for the Haaretz English daily newspaper. He pointed out that Israel has less information about these new players in the world of terrorism, in comparison to the stores of data it has on organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. It is also difficult to strike back at those who carry out such attacks because even if their identities become known, they generally do not have any camps out in the open, nor any other infrastructure that can be targeted openly; and in any case, Israel would find it difficult to operate on Egyptian soil.
Ronald Tiersky, Eastman Professor of Political Science at Amherst College, told Homeland Security Today, “I think its necessary to take a long view rather than try to figure out what this incident means.”
Tiersky said that to understand the implications it is important to know who ordered the attack – was it ISIS central or was it the local group in Sinai acting on their own initiative, which is how ISIS has operated a lot from the beginning.
“Once you know who is ordering the attacks, then you can get an idea of what it may mean,” he said. “Is this part of some ISIS strategy or is this one incident in one of the many places that ISIS has affiliates. The attack is a tactic, but what is the strategy?”
Is the strategy still being formulated in Raqqa, or is it an effort by local commanders to go it alone without any coordination withISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Currently, it’s believed the ISIS central leadership is under siege, and if that is the case it is more likely that the rocket attack was an isolated incident. It is also not part of the caliphate strategy, so there may be more attacks of this kind, but they will not add up to anything.
Tiersky explained to Homeland Security Today that, “The real threat, as far as Egypt is concerned, is destabilization of the government which would mean social unrest which is why it is important for the government to convince the population that the rocket attack on Israel is an isolated incident and that the army will be able to contain insurgent military attacks in the northern Sinai.”
As far as Israel is concerned, ISIS does not want to provoke the Israeli army and it would not be in Israel’s interest to initiate military action in the Sinai which is now Egyptian territory.