Sinai: The New Wild West?

Sinai: The New Wild West?

Erin Dwyer

In a radio interview this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared his fears on the lawlessness of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, noting that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaeda currently run rampant in the desert — of course with Iran’s assistance. The Sinai, which under former President Hosni Mubarak’s strict control remained quiet, has become a base for arms smuggling and attacks, the Prime Minister said.

Swarming with militants and Islamic extremists, conditions in the Sinai have provoked Netanyahu to label the territory a new “Wild West” and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to recommend increasing Israeli troops positioned along Israel’s Egypt border. Offering a response that — for now — reaffirms Cairo’s interest in maintaining the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi recently warned that Egypt “will break the legs of anyone trying to attack us or who come near the borders”.

Flames rise from a pipeline in the Sinai that delivers gas to Israel and Jordan after it was hit by an explosion. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Tantawi’s harsh rhetoric follows Egypt’s unexpected termination of its 2005 agreement to supply Israel with natural gas at a discounted rate. The arrangement, which accounted for 40% of Israel’s natural gas supply, was allegedly canceled due to commercial and legal issues rather than for political reasons.

Even so, Israel was far more secure when Mubarak was in power. Since the former president’s fall, Sinai militants have attacked the gas pipeline at least 14 times. In addition, rockets launched from the desert earlier this month landed in Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat, and who could forget the terrorist attack last year that originated from the Sinai and resulted in eight dead Israelis. Israel is currently constructing a fence that will, upon its completion, offer a 165-mile barrier between Israel and Egypt from the Gaza Strip down to Eilat.

Some analysts have suggested that separating itself with barriers is not the best way for Israel to react to its new environment. But sometimes — as in the case with the West Bank — fences make good neighbors. And if the Sinai is truly becoming the new Wild West as Netanyahu suggests, Israel’s only option is to take the necessary precautions.