With big gains in N. Sinai, ISIS drives south

DEBKAfile January 9, 2017

Egyptian control of the vast Sinai Peninsula is slipping fast. After gaining virtual sway over the north and its main roads, Islamic State Caliphate terrorists are moving ahead with an ambitious plan to devour a broad stretch of land on the eastern flank of central Sinai, debkafile’s military sources report.

Achieving this objective would bring the jihadists in position to directly threaten Egyptian beach resorts along the Gulf of Aqaba coast and its celebrated tourist resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. It would also bring them up to another section of the Egyptian-Israeli border.

These days, Egyptian forces move around the northern and eastern regions of the peninsula in heavily-armed convoys with tanks and air and helicopter support. Still, on Monday, Jan.9, a suicide bomber killed 13 Egyptian soldiers by blowing up a stolen garbage truck packed with explosives outside a police station in the northern Sinai center of El Arish. The blast was followed by an RPG ground attack on the checkpoint outside the building.

ISIS manages to inflict terror on Egyptian security forces despite the close military and intelligence cooperation between Egypt, the US and Israel for securing the north and keeping it out of ISIS control. Egyptian forces have their backs to the wall after failing to cement their authority there – or even carve out “sterile zones” for keeping the Islamists at arms length – although the Egyptian 2nd Army responsible for security in the north has been beefed up with tanks, air and helicopter reinforcements.