Sinai faces simmering low-grade war
By Dale McFeatters
That part of the Sinai Peninsula where Egypt, Israel and Gaza meet is one of the great flashpoints of the Mideast.
Since 1948, when Israel became independent, it has figured in four major wars and numerous skirmishes. Israel occupied part of the Sinai after the 1967 war and most of the rest of it in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace agreement with the provision that the peninsula be demilitarized. There is even now a token international U.N. peacekeeping force in the Sinai, including about 200 members of the U.S. military, largely in an observer capacity.
Even after 33 years of tense and uneasy peace, the Sinai remains dangerous and still a flashpoint for larger conflict. On Sunday night a force of 35 armed Islamic extremists attacked an Egyptian post at Rafah on the border with Gaza and killed 16 police and border guards.
The militants commandeered two vehicles, a truck that a suicide bomber used to blow a gap in the Israeli border defenses, and an armored vehicle in which the jihadists attempted a short-lived invasion of Israel. The Israelis have since turned over to the Egyptians the bodies of the attackers and the wreckage of the vehicle.
As usual in the Mideast, the conspiratorial finger pointing began immediately. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood accused the Israeli secret service of being behind the attack. Israel accused extremists in Gaza of supporting the attack with mortar fire.
The Sinai has some nice resorts on the Red Sea known for their diving, the ancient St. Catherine's Monastery, a popular place of pilgrimage, some oil, and not much else except for sand and desolation. Its Bedouin inhabitants accuse, and with good reason, the central government of ignoring their educational, medical and developmental needs.
The central government ruled with a strong hand until the uprising 18 months ago and since then has all but disappeared, leaving the Bedouins free to engage in smuggling ― food and weapons into Gaza and African migrants desperate for work into Israel.
More alarmingly, hard-core jihadists began flocking to the Sinai looking for a lawless land with a weak government where they could establish an "emirate" and spread their violent form of Islam.
Combating all this falls on the shoulders of Egypt's untried new president, Mohammed Morsi, who somehow must work with his own Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and their mutual archenemy Israel to suppress the violence and retake the Sinai.
The Sinai is yet again becoming a flashpoint in desperate need of defusing.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service.