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Monday, 22 August 2011

The return of the Sinai-based fedayeen?

Last Thursday there was a militant cross-border attack (from the Sinai into Gaza) in which three Egyptian soldiers were killed. These attacks were carried out by what the Israelis have called ‘Palestinian militants’. Such militants had entered Egypt through tunnels which were dug in Gaza.

Israel withdraw from the Sinai peninsula, for the third time, in 1979 and after, having captured the entire area in 1956. Since that time, and in term of geographical distance, the Egyptian border has been only 60 miles from Tel Aviv and 70 miles from Jerusalem.
In terms of fairly-recent and relevant history. The Sinai peninsula, as well as the border regions between Gaza and Egypt (Sinai), were the home of fedayeen before - and up to - the 1967 Six Day War. From these terrorist and military bases, the fedayeen launched hundreds, if not thousands, of attacks against Israel which resulted in hundreds of deaths on both sides.

More relevantly, the fedayeen, at that time, were trained and equipped by Egyptian Intelligence. (Other fedayeen launched similar attacks from bases in Jordan.) Interestingly enough, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was also born as part of these fedayeen forces in Egypt (Sinai) and Jordan.

There has been a long-running love-hate relationship between Israel and Egypt. This has been the case ever since Egypt first tried to destroy Israel in the 1948 War.

Actually, it has been more a case of a diplomatic/Realpolitik-love/hate relationship than a pure love-hate one. That is, various Egyptian leaders have felt compelled or obliged to take part in the relationship (usually for various economic and political reasons). However, all the while thousands, perhaps millions, of Egyptians have only ever wanted one thing - the annihilation of Israel as a state. (Some Egyptians, but not as many, have also always wanted the complete annihilation/death of all Jewish Israelis as well.)

Coming up to date. The Sinai region has again become the home of Islamists and militants. It has also become a base for out-and-out terrorists as well as criminals.

Take the Muslim Brotherhood: now basking in the political light of the new and volatile situation in Cairo and Egypt. More specifically, the Muslim Brotherhood has strong relations with Hamas in Gaza. Indeed Hamas is a branch, as it were, of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood itself was born in Egypt and it has always been strong there (apart from a few periods of governmental clampdown).
Israel now feels that a post-Mubarak regime, if suitably Islamist, will simply revoke the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

So it is no surprise that as part of the love/hate reltionship with Israel (which I suspect that post-Mubarak will be more of a hate-hate relationship), the refreshed Egyptian Islamists have seized these killings as a perfect excuse to rekindle the hate part of the love-hate relationship with Israel.

Lacking any originality, the crowds in Cairo have been chanting ‘Death to Israel’. Not, I must state, this: Israel - get out of Gaza and the West Bank. No. ‘Death to Israel’ - ‘from the river to the sea’, you may add. Thus we must call them, and many others, Israel Annihilationists.

One politician from Cairo, Amr Moussa, also put the tough-guy position on Israel:

‘Israel must understand that the day our sons get killed without a strong and appropriate response is gone and will not come back.’

Not quite a strong as Nasser’s position circa 1956:

‘Our hatred is very strong. There is no sense in talking about peace with Israel. There is not even the smallest place for negotiations.’

In terms of what Amr Moussa said. Does he also include the thousands of ‘sons’ who, over the decades, have constituted various Egyptian, as well as Palestinian, fedayeen? That is, does he include the fighters who launched numerous attacks against Israel from the Sinai peninsula and the border areas between Egypt (as well as Jordan) and Israel?

It seems that these killings of Egyptian soldiers could have been a ‘mistake’ on Israel’s part. Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has offered a formal apology for the deaths.

However, I’m not that clear exactly why the Israelis offered an apology considering the possibility that the it was not really an accident at all. Despite that, Barak has stated that ‘Israel is sorry over the deaths of the Egyptian officers’. Maybe the Palestinian terrorists, or fedayeen, set out to get their fellow Arabs killed - all the better to turn up the noise on Israel in Egypt, Gaza and elsewhere. For example, it has been said that some of the attackers might have been wearing Egyptian army or police uniforms (just as some Arabs dressed in women’s clothes during the 1948 battle at Deir Yassin).

In terms of Gaza only, on just Saturday last, six rockets were launched from Gaza. And on Friday last, around 30 rockets were fired into Israel from the same area.

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