Egypt’s interim government — dominated by the military, which seems intent on crushing extremism related to the Muslim Brotherhood — seems to be planning a major move that Israel would almost surely welcome: an invasion of part of the Gaza Strip aimed at finding and killing Hamas-backed militants who have been active in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The militants, who probably have bases in the Sinai but also in Hamas-ruled Gaza, are responsible for the deaths of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. Israel has allowed Egypt to station troops in the Sinai — far greater than the numbers permitted in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979 — in the hope that the extremists will be wiped out.
In Cairo, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy (a former ambassador to Washington) publicly warned Hamas to stop helping the Islamists in the Sinai — or face punishment by Egypt’s military.
“Despite the fact that this scenario seems now unrealistic, it is likely that the tension between the Egyptian army and Hamas will escalate to the point where the Egyptian army launches a major military campaign in the Gaza Strip to overthrow the movement’s rule.”
Melman described the Egyptian army’s operations in northern Sinai as “unprecedented” in terms of their determination to resist “terrorists”; killing hundreds with aircrafts and commando troops. Melman pointed out that the Egyptian army was systematically eliminating those wanted — rather than arresting them. Melman predicted that the Egyptian army will justify any military action against Hamas by “claiming that it had received evidence which proves Hamas’ cooperation with Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic groups in Sinai and that Hamas provides these groups with weapons.”
According to Melman, “The Egyptian army receives intelligence from Israel which links Hamas to the Islamic groups in Sinai.”
He added that the Egyptian army had intensified its operations to destroy the tunnels which link Egypt to the Gaza Strip. On another level, Melman said the U.S. military currently trains and oversees the Egyptian army during their operations to demolish the tunnels. The Obama administration recently awarded an American company $10 million to develop equipment capable of detecting tunnels on the border with Gaza. Since 2009, Washington has spent $30 million on operations to detect tunnels in the area.
According to Melman, “The Egyptian army coordinates its operations in the northern Sinai with Tel Aviv and receives approval before it carries out any operation”.