Thursday, August 5, 2010
A recent rocket attack on the twin Red Sea resorts of Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan focuses attention on long-simmering discontent among Egypt’s Bedouins in the Sinai peninsula. Both Egypt and Jordan have charged that the rockets that killed one person in Aqaba were launched from the Sinai - the second such attack in the last three months. Egypt has denied the allegation arguing that its border with Israel is heavily monitored. Egyptian security forces have nonetheless launched a security sweep of Sinai, acknowledging that Palestinian and Bedouin groups are active in the region. Egyptian and Israeli authorities charge that Bedouin tribesmen are part of a smuggling network that tunnels supplies into the Gaza Strip and sneaks African migrants across the border into Israel. In an ominous development, the attacks signal increased militant activity in the Sinai and radicalization of local Bedouin groups. The rocket incident adds to mounting tension on Israel’s borders in a week in which Israeli and Lebanese forces clashed for the first time since Israel attacked the Lebanese Shiite militia Hizbollah in 2006 and Arab states are seeking to ensure that an international inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri that reportedly will point the finger at Hizbollah operatives does not plunge Lebanon into renewed civil strife. The rocket attack was launched barely two weeks after Egyptian Interior Minister Habib Adli agreed in a meeting with tribal leaders to release scores of detained Bedouins, including prominent activist and blogger Mossad Abu Fajr, in a bid to ease tension with the Sinai residents and neutralize Bedouin threats to sabotage oil and gas pipelines, including a natural-gas line that supplies Israel. In return for cooperation in apprehending terrorists, the government also promised to rollback repressive measures and initiate development projects that would create jobs in the Sinai. In June, security forces clashed with Bedouins after a police operation to capture unidentified fugitives failed. Egypt has long had difficulty in maintaining law and order in the Sinai, crucial to the country’s tourism industry. In 2004, twin bombings at resorts in Taba and Ras al-Shitan killed at least 34 people. A year later, 88 people died in bomb attacks in Sharm el Sheikh, and in 2006 at least 23 people were killed in blasts in Dahab. Bedouins, cooperating with various militant groups, including Hamas, Hizbollah and Al-Qaeda linked cells, are believed to have been involved in the attacks.