Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Egyptian security sources have informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the security apparatus in Cairo believe that Iran may be funding the smuggling of arms – belonging to the former Libyan arm – into the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The source added that the lack of security along the Egypt – Israeli border has increased the concerns that a new attack on Israel could be launched from Egypt’s Sinai.
For his part, an Egyptian government official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that Cairo, over the past few weeks, has received some indications from Israel and from western countries, regarding the issue of the Sinai Peninsula. He said “the situation in Sinai is under control…the [Egyptian] Defence Minister has visited, as has the prime minister…and we are in charge of deciding what is to be done there.”
All high-level meetings between senior officials over the past few days in Cairo have discussed the grave situation in the Sinai Peninsula, which has a strategically important position, being close to the Gaza Strip, Israel, and the Suez Canal.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr spoke with Director-General of the Multinational Forces and Observers David M. Satterfield on Monday. The Multinational Forces and Observers have been responsible for monitoring the Egypt – Israel borders since the signing of the Camp David Accord.
The Egyptians are also closely monitoring what is taking place on the other side of the borders, where the Israeli army is preparing to install an early-warning missile system in the city of Eliat, which has been subject to rocket attacks by hard-line groups operating from Egyptian territory.
Unidentified armed groups have also been able to thwart Egypt’s export of gas to Israel, targeting the oil pipelines 14 times over the past months. An Egyptian security source revealed that the Egyptian authorities have observed increased activities by jihadist groups that are moving across Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, as well as the Egyptian border with Israel, via the Sinai Peninsula. The security source claimed that weapons smuggled from Libya, including BM-21 Grad missiles and other missile systems, have increasingly appeared in the hands of extremist groups since the beginning of the year.
As for the suspicions that Iran is involved in the smuggling of arms from Libya into the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian security source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran might continue its attempts to incite Egyptian – Israeli tensions by utilizing hard-line groups operating from the Sinai Peninsula. The source also revealed that Egyptian authorities had observed Iranian businessmen and nationals, carrying western passports, entering the country following the collapse of the Mubarak regime.
It is well known that Iran is facing economic sanctions and pressure by the international community due to its nuclear program, particularly as there are suspicions that Tehran would seek to transform a peaceful nuclear program into a means to produce nuclear arms.
Egyptian – Iranian relations were severed more than 30 years ago due to their different opinion regarding the issue of war and peace in the region. An official working in the Iranian Interests Office in Cairo said “we do not interfere in the affairs of Egypt, and we do not have any links to any groups in Sinai.”
Egyptian army and police forces have reinforced their presence in the Sinai Peninsula after military personnel were attacked by unknown elements that most likely belong to jihadist groups in Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayd in the Sinai Peninsula.
It is well known that the presence of the Egyptian Armed Forces in the Sinai Peninsula is restricted according to the peace treaty with Israel, which was signed following the October 1973 war. Despite the fact that Israel, when necessary, allows the Egyptian Armed Forces to deploy additional forces to the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptians say that they require more freedom to move and act in Sinai in order to counteract the recent developments. The Egyptian presidential candidates have all pledged to amend the peace treaty with Israel in order to increase Egyptian sovereignty and control over the Sinai Peninsula.
The Egyptian authorities have become stricter regarding the movements of Egyptians and foreign nationals in the Sinai Peninsula or between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Around 150 Arab and foreign businessmen who were on their way to Gaza to take part in an investment forum were prevented from crossing into Gaza via the Rafah Border Crossing on Monday. An Egyptian security official said that the delegation failed to obtain the necessary approvals to cross into the Gaza Strip via the Rafah Border Crossing, and this is why they were prevented from attending the forum.
Local officials in Benghazi have claimed to have no knowledge regarding whether or not Iranian businessmen are financing any arms smuggling operations from Libya into Egypt. However, some security sources in Benghazi have revealed that there are links between military battalions with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood which were formed after the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in the Cyrenaica region of eastern Libya, and Islamists in Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Security sources in the Sinai Peninsula have claimed that the types of weapons being used by hard-liners “come from Libya”. The source also revealed that Egyptian authorities had arrested 2 jihadist elements earlier this week for photographing an Egyptian armed forces security station in the al-Ahrash district of Rafah city. The source added that it was clear that the two suspects who had been arrested subscribe to jihadist ideology, and perhaps have links to the recent attacks on the Egyptian armed forces in the Sinai Peninsula.