Mosque Attack is a Testament to Egypt’s Impotence in Sinai: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Nov. 25, 2017— The terror attack Friday at a mosque in the small northern Sinai town of Bir al-Abd wasn’t especially sophisticated.
Why Does ISIS Kill Muslims?: Raymond Ibrahim, FrontPage Magazine, Nov. 27, 2017— On Friday, November 24, some 30 gunmen carrying the Islamic State flag bombed and stormed a Sufi mosque in Egypt's North Sinai, about 125 miles northeast of Cairo.
Egypt's Peace Interest: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, Nov. 28, 2017— Forty years after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel, and after a long hiatus due to the "Arab Spring" and ensuing "Islamic winter" that hit the country, Egypt has returned to playing a leading role in the region.
For How Long Will the Peace Treaty with Egypt be Robust?: Efraim Inbar, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 27, 2017— Israel is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the historic visit of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, that led to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Islam and Freedom of Religion: Philip Carl Salzman, Frontier Centre, Oct. 25, 2017
In Egypt, Furious Retaliation but Failing Strategy in Sinai: Declan Walsh and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Nov. 25, 2017
Egypt-Israel Cooperation Likely to Increase after Sinai Massacre: United With Israel, Nov. 27, 2017
Remembering Anwar Sadat’s Legacy: Yehuda Yaakov, Boston Globe, Nov. 19, 2017
Times of Israel, Nov. 25, 2017
The terror attack Friday at a mosque in the small northern Sinai town of Bir al-Abd wasn’t especially sophisticated. Rather than advanced military skills, the gruesome scene was testimony only to the moral blindness and cruelty of the perpetrators. First, they set off two bombs inside the mosque, which was thronged with Friday worshipers. Then, when the survivors streamed toward the exits, terrorists waited outside in all-terrain vehicles, picking off those who emerged.
In that fashion, some 305 people were killed and 128 wounded. Based on assessments on social media, before the attack, Bir al-Abd was a town of some 1,500 souls, meaning that about one in three of its residents was a casualty. As of Saturday evening, there had been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but the immediate suspicion falls on Islamic State’s Sinai Province, the group formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. Its leader, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Osama (his real name is Muhammad al-Isawi), took over after his predecessor, Abu Du’a al-Ansari, was assassinated in August 2016.
The pretext for Friday’s attack was likely the mosque’s affiliation with Islam’s mystical Sufi stream. It is known as the birthplace of Sheikh Eid al-Jariri, considered the founder of Sufism in the Sinai. The Islamic State, like al-Qaeda and other radical Sunni organizations before it, has denounced the Sufis. But for IS it isn’t merely about religious differences: In the past two years, the Sufis have worked in tight cooperation with Egyptian security forces in the peninsula in an effort to counter the Islamic State and curb recruitment among the local Beduin.
Recent months have also seen a clan war that has pitted several tribes (notably Tarabin) against the Islamic State. The spate of mutual killings, which has included beheadings (not only on the part of IS), may also be connected to Friday’s attack. Last May, tribesmen executed eight Sinai Province operatives in retribution for a car bomb the terror group detonated near a Tarabin encampment. Among the triggers for those incidents was Sinai Province’s effort to take control of smuggling along the border with the Gaza Strip and to stem the flow of cigarettes, which they forbid, into the Sinai. Those restrictions threatened the livelihood of the Tarabins, who responded with violence.
But beyond IS cruelty and inter-tribal strife, what this attack drives home – and not for the first time – is the extent of the difficulty facing the Egyptian army in its efforts to counter the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai. Indeed, the frequency of attacks in mainland Egypt has gone down of late, and even within the Sinai the military has been able to operate relatively unmolested. Yet, Egyptian intelligence has come up against obvious difficulties in its effort to gain a real foothold in the peninsula, including amassing sufficient human and technological assets to clamp down on terrorism there.
In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s attack, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared a new military onslaught against the perpetrators. Hours later, reports emerged of airstrikes against terror targets and dozens of dead among the insurgents. The question is what prevented Egypt from taking such action before the attack, and why previous efforts in the wake of earlier attacks did not yield significant gains.
Egypt has long refrained from embarking on an extensive operation, in the vein of the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank and Gaza in 2002. Perhaps the cost of such a campaign would be prohibitive, or maybe it’s that as long as terrorism is more-or-less confined to the northeastern Sinai, Cairo doesn’t care as much. Eventually, though, those same terrorists who decimated the small town of Bir al-Abd will target vacationers on the sunny shores of the Red Sea, and then in Cairo itself.
FrontPage Magazine, Nov. 27, 2017
On Friday, November 24, some 30 gunmen carrying the Islamic State flag bombed and stormed a Sufi mosque in Egypt's North Sinai, about 125 miles northeast of Cairo. They managed to massacre at least 305 people, 27 of whom were children. "The scene was horrific," said Ibrahim Sheteewi, an eyewitness. "The bodies were scattered on the ground outside the mosque. I hope God punishes them for this."
Not only is this considered the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt, but one of the strangest as well. As the NYT explains, "The scale and ruthlessness of the assault, in an area racked by an Islamist insurgency, sent shock waves across the nation — not just for the number of deaths but also for the choice of target. Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State has targeted Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims but avoided Muslim places of worship." Indeed, whereas the bombing and burning of churches and the slaughter of Christians in Egypt at the hands of, not just ISIS, but Muslim mobs and murderers, is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Egypt, attacks on mosques in the name of jihad naturally are.
ISIS does not view its Muslim victims as true Muslims. One Muslim cleric from the region who requested anonymity best voiced the general view: "I can't believe they attacked a mosque." In the West, this selfsame shock of Muslim on Muslim terrorism is used to support the politically correct mantra that terror groups such as the Islamic State truly have nothing to do with Islam—otherwise they would not bomb mosques and kill fellow worshippers of Allah. Because the attack occurred late Friday—and, as of this writing, it is only Sunday, meaning still the weekend—capitalizing on this tragedy as a way to distance Islam from terrorism has not yet begun in the West; but, if precedent is any indicator, it soon will.
For example, last year during the closing days of Ramadan, a spate of terror attacks occurred in Bangladesh, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia—all Muslim nations; these were followed by a media outpouring of "told you Islam wasn't responsible for terrorism," or, to quote Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, "Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such act. They [Islamic State] do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism." Speaking after the San Bernardino terror attack that left 14 dead, Barrack Obama agreed: "ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death… Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim." After the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, which left 130 people dead, the UK's Independent published an article titled, "Paris attacks: Isis responsible for more Muslim deaths than western victims." And the Daily Beast argued that, "Before the Paris horror, ISIS was killing Muslims on a daily basis. We Muslims despise these crazy people more than anyone else does…. But the number one victim of this barbaric terror group is Muslims. That's undisputed."
Along with distancing Islam from violence—real Muslims are not supposed to kill other Muslims in the name of jihad—this argument further clouds the issue of who is the true victim of Islamic terrorism: Why talk about the Muslim slaughter of non-Muslims—whether Western people, Israelis, or Christian minorities under Islam—when it is Muslims who are the primary victims most deserving of sympathy?
Killing 'fellow Muslims' doesn't make ISIS un-Islamic. The problem with this argument, however, is that the Islamic State does not view its victims as Muslims. Indeed, mainstream Sunni Islam—the world's dominant strand of Islam which 90 percent of the world's Muslims, including ISIS, adhere to—views all non-Sunnis as false Muslims; at best, they are heretics who need to submit to the "true Islam." This is largely how Sunnis view Shias and vice versa—hence their perennial war. While Western talking heads tend to lump them all together as "Muslims"—thus reaching the erroneous conclusion that ISIS is un-Islamic because it kills "fellow Muslims"—each group views the other as enemies.
A saying attributed to the Muslim prophet Muhammad even validates this: "This umma [nation] of mine will split into seventy-three sects; one will be in paradise and seventy-two will be in hell." When asked which sect was the true one, the prophet replied, "al–jama'a," that is, the group which most literally follows the example or "sunna" of Muhammad.
Overall, then, when Sunni jihadis slaughter Shias—or Sufis, Druze, and Baha'i—they do so under the exact same logic as when they slaughter Christian minorities, or European, American, and Israeli citizens: all are infidels who must either embrace the true faith, be subjugated, or die.
Concerning Sufis in particular, last January an ISIS commander situated in Sinai "outlined the group's hatred for Sufis and their practices, including the veneration of tombs, the sacrificial slaughter of animals and what he termed 'sorcery and soothsaying.'" The Islamic State has further referred to Sufism as a "disease" that needs to be "eradicated." Accordingly, a year ago, ISIS beheaded Sulayman Abu Hiraz, a Sufi cleric reportedly over 100 years old, on the charge of sorcery.
The argument that ISIS and other jihadi organizations kill fellow Muslims proves nothing. Muslims have been slaughtering Muslims on the accusation that they are "not Islamic enough" or the wrong "kinds" of Muslims from the start: So what can the open non-Muslim—such as the Western infidel—expect? Indeed, if anything, that ISIS kills other "Muslims" only further validates the supremacist and intolerant aspects of Sunnism, which is hardly limited to ISIS. Just look to our good "friend and ally," Saudi Arabia, the official religion of which is Sunni Islam, and witness the subhuman treatment Shia minorities experience. In the end, it's just jihad and more jihad, for all and sundry.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
Israel Hayom, Nov. 28, 2017
Forty years after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel, and after a long hiatus due to the "Arab Spring" and ensuing "Islamic winter" that hit the country, Egypt has returned to playing a leading role in the region. More specifically, in the Israeli context, Egypt is also an integral part of U.S. efforts to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
For the most part, the Arab world has grown weary of the Palestinian issue. Most Arab countries are preoccupied with their own troubles, with problems that are more urgent and more important to them than helping the Palestinians resolve their internal disputes or the conflict with Israel.
For Egypt, however, this matter is neither distant nor irrelevant. From its perspective, pushing the peace process forward could help Egypt cope with a bevy of serious problems knocking on its doorstep. First, the threat of jihadist terrorism, which has hit the country repeatedly and just last week claimed the lives of hundreds of Sinai residents in a horrific slaughter at a mosque. In Egypt's view, Islamic State and its "Sinai branch" are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt proper. For Cairo, Islamic State is a terrorist organization that perpetrates attacks in the distant Sinai Peninsula, while the Muslim Brotherhood is a potentially lethal cancer eating at the heart of the Egyptian body.
Hamas is a sister movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and in the past has aided Islamic State in Sinai. Like Israel, Egypt recognizes reality and understands that Hamas will not suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. Egypt hopes that a peace process, preceded by an inter-Palestinian reconciliation process, would "contain" the Hamas threat and perhaps, in the long term, even pave the way for the Palestinian Authority to oust the terrorist organization from Gaza. The Egyptians are not naive, but their national interest is to lower the flames, and any progress or even discussion of peace can help them.
In contrast to his predecessor Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi is determined to improve the Egyptian economy, a requirement for ensuring the country's long-term stability. But for this to happen, Sissi needs an atmosphere of peace. Even more importantly, he needs generous monetary aid from the United States – Russia, after all, can provide weapons, not dollars.
Egypt used to be leader of the Arab world. Now, though, it looks on longingly as Iran and Turkey try to claim the leadership crown for themselves. Egypt's return to the helm of the Arab world and Middle East depends on how it fares against Iran and Turkey, unlike in the past when it largely depended on conflict with Israel. This too, requires a diplomatic process.
These are all good reasons for Egypt to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians; it certainly will not be upset if a peace agreement is reached.
Jerusalem Post, Nov. 27, 2017
Israel is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the historic visit of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem that led to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The move by Egypt, the largest and strongest Arab state, changed the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sadat violated the Arab taboo against good neighborly relations with the Jewish state and opened the way for additional peace agreements. The defection of Egypt from the Arab military coalition eliminated the option of a two-front conventional war against Israel and saved the Israeli taxpayer billions of dollars. The heavy price paid by Israel to Egypt was total withdrawal from the Sinai and removal of settlements. But, in retrospect, it worked out well, turning Israel into “the land had peace for forty years.”
The peace treaty withstood many difficult tests: Israel’s strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1982, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the 1987 Palestinian uprising, Israeli measures against the Palestinian terrorism campaign since 2000 and the Israel-Gaza wars. Even the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt (2012-13) did not cancel the peace treaty.
Unfortunately, Israeli expectations for normal inter-state and people-to-people interactions were not realized. The rooted cultural and religious barriers to having good relations with the Jewish state have been too difficult to overcome. In the Arab world, Israel is mostly seen as an alien body. For Egypt, this has not changed after 40 years of formal peace. In the absence of drastic change in the Arab educational systems, these perceptions of Jews and their state will continue. Hopes for peaceful relations with Arab countries – such as between the US and Canada – are fanciful dreams. This insight should be taken into consideration when calculating the Israeli price for Arab peace offers.
Moreover, the robustness of the peace treaty is not self-evident. History teaches us that most wars break out in violation of a peace treaty. The survival of the peace treaty seems threatened by several developments. We have to remember that the change in Egypt’s position toward Israel was a result of Cairo gradually preferring the US to the Soviet Union.
Egypt realized that the US had greater leverage on Israel in its attempt to gain back the Sinai. However, its pro-American orientation is not a constant. Nowadays, the US seems to have become a less desirable ally. Its international standing has deteriorated and its Middle East policy, under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, favors disengagement rather than involvement.
At the same time, Russia has become more influential in the region. Egypt seems to sense the change and now buys Russian weapons. It also purchased two Russian nuclear reactors, which has created a long-term dependency upon Moscow. A change in Egypt’s foreign policy orientation also affects its relations with Israel. The region, whose character is changing due to the ascendance of Iran, also provides reasons to worry.
States in the region are aware of a projected American weakness and are left with only two choices when facing an Iran that cooperates with Russia. They can form an alliance to curb Iranian influence (the choice of Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf States) or get closer to Iran (the choice of Turkey and Qatar). Egypt is usually seen as part of the Sunni moderate camp that fears greater Iranian clout. Egypt is much more dependent upon financial support from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Nevertheless, Egypt supported Bashar Assad in Syria – an Iranian ally. If the Gulf region falls under Iranian influence, Cairo might have to adopt a different posture and also look for support in Tehran. This might put an end to the peace treaty with Israel.
Finally, the large growth of the Egyptian military and its modernization is a source of concern. The growth of the Egyptian air force, navy and land forces remains a mystery, particularly with no enemy on Egyptian borders in sight. The investments in logistics infrastructure from Cairo eastwards and the building of tunnels under the Suez Canal seem to have no reasonable civilian rationale. Moreover, the demilitarization of Sinai, the most important stabilizing element in the peace treaty, has been eroded, as Israel agreed to the infusion of Egyptian units into the Sinai to fight the radical Islamic insurgency.
While an Egyptian-Israeli military confrontation is unlikely, we see the emergence of conditions that make an Egyptian attack easier. Everything must be done by Jerusalem to preserve the peace treaty with Egypt, but Israel should still prepare itself for worst-case scenarios.
Islam and Freedom of Religion: Philip Carl Salzman, Frontier Centre, Oct. 25, 2017—Islam is difficult for Westerners to understand because we view it through our own cultural categories. Our categories have been formed by the post-Enlightenment and post-industrial revolution in the West. Modern Western society has been organized on the basis of occupational specialization and division of labour. This is why we see our societies divided among distinct spheres of activity: familial, economic, political, cultural, and religious.
In Egypt, Furious Retaliation but Failing Strategy in Sinai: Declan Walsh and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Nov. 25, 2017—After militants massacred 305 people at a packed mosque on Friday in a stunning assault on a sacred place, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi responded as he knows best.
Egypt-Israel Cooperation Likely to Increase after Sinai Massacre: Algemeiner, Nov. 27, 2017—After terrorists killed more than 300 people during prayers at a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Friday, experts say that weaknesses in the Arab country’s counter-terrorism operations will likely lead to increased Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation.
Remembering Anwar Sadat’s Legacy: Yehuda Yaakov, Boston Globe, Nov. 19, 2017—Forty years ago — on Nov. 19, 1977 — Egyptian President Anwar Sadat embarked on a groundbreaking visit to Jerusalem. The 1979 peace treaty he later signed with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin set in motion the unmistakable dynamic of the Israeli-Arab rapprochement we witness today.