Tuesday, July 17, 2012

17-Jul-12: Sinai used to be seen as a paradise

From a Sinai Treks vacation site [Source]

Wikipedia says the Sinai Peninsula is "tourist destination due to its natural setting, rich coral reefs, and biblical history. Mount Sinai is one of the most religiously significant places in the Abrahamic faiths." It's an optimistic assessment, looked at through the eyes of 2012.

The head of Israel's Military Intelligence, Aviv Kochavi, told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli parliament - the Knesset - this morning (Tuesday) that the IDF has so far been instrumental in recent days in uncovering and stopping no fewer than ten separate terror cells based in Sinai. He says it has multiple additional terror groups under surveillance at the present time. Ynet says the new Sinai reality came up in the discussions Sunday and yesterday among the Israeli leadership (Netanyahu and Barak), and Hillary Clinton, the visiting US Secretary of State. 

Sinai terrorists have deployed rockets, machine-guns and explosives against Israelis on several occasions in the past several months. They killed an Israeli working on the new Israel-Egypt border security fence, and nine additional Israelis in the Islamic Jihad terror attack on a bus traveling on Highway 10 last summer of 2011. The terrorists destroyed sections of the Egypt-to-Israel gas pipeline more than a dozen times in the past year. That pipeline is now no longer delivering gas to Israel. Kidnappings and abductions of Americans, Europeans and other foreign tourists and visitors are a daily reality, right up until this morning. 

Egyptian officials routinely blame Israel for "trying to spread panic with rumors and irresponsible statements" and making efforts "to impede the area's booming tourism industry" [source] But sober observers know it's far from being an Israelis-only concern. 

The traveler's advisory site of the UK Foreign Office, as of this afternoon, warns visitors to Egypt that "due to the significant increase in the risk of criminal activity in the North Sinai area, we advise against all but essential travel to Sinai north of the Suez-Taba road." 

U.S. citizens who plan to visit the Sinai in spite of the persistent threat of terrorist attacks should exercise great caution. Travelers should remain alert to their surroundings and are reminded that crowded tourist areas have been the target of terrorist activities. Travelers should use caution when visiting destination resorts and hotels without significant physical setback and security procedures... U.S. Embassy personnel in Egypt are currently prohibited from traveling to the Sinai, except by air to Sharm El Sheikh. Overland travel by U.S. government (USG) employees anywhere in the Sinai outside of Sharm El Sheikh is prohibited. In addition, travel by road by USG employees west of Marsa Matruh on the north coast is prohibited. Travel between Fayoum, Asyut, Sohag, and Qena; and Fayoum is only approved on a case by case basis.No one is asking for our advice, but we say the presence of tourists is almost always a good thing, just so long as they are making a mature assessment of the risks they are taking by going there.
On a slightly more upbeat note, Kochavi spoke about the growth in MI's capabilities, referring in particular to a significant rise in the number of young service personnel joining the force. The officers training cadre grew this year by 25%, though we are left with the impression that the scale of the overall challenge, particularly in Sinai and in light of the tectonic changes going on in Moslem Brotherhood-led Egypt, grew more rapidly than that.

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