Security in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has deteriorated precipitously since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak one year ago, with criminal gangs targeting tourists and security forces and jihadist groups becoming increasingly active.
The decline has accelerated in recent weeks. On Saturday, Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai seized anti-aircraft missiles and TNT said to be bound for Gaza. The seizure came one day after three South Korean tourists were kidnapped. Egyptian officials said the South Koreans were released after negotiations with a village leader who had been jailed for weapon and drug offenses but escaped during the revolution that toppled Mubarak last February.
On Thursday, Bedouins reportedly kidnapped 17 Egyptian border guards in an apparent effort to free a fellow tribesman held for an illegal attempt to enter Israel.
On Feb. 3, masked gunmen kidnapped two American tourists from a bus bound for Sharm el-Sheikh and robbed other passengers of their valuables.
The kidnapping occurred three days after Bedouin tribesmen kidnapped 25 workers, most of them Chinese, as they traveled to a Sinai cement plant. The Bedouins have demanded the Egyptian government release their members of their tribe who were jailed in connection with a coordinated series of October 2004 bombings that killed more than 30 people at Sinai resorts.
Last week, saboteurs blew up a pipeline near El Arish which supplies gas to Israel and Jordan, causing a suspension of gas deliveries. It was the 12th attack on the pipeline in the past year. Al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri has praised the pipeline attacks and congratulated the jihadists responsible.
The growing anarchy in Sinai and more generally in Egypt poses a security danger to Israel. Writing in the National Interest, Bruce Riedel observes that many of those who have broken out of Egyptian jails during the past year have been supporters of Zawahiri and individuals who carried out a series of attacks on Sinai tourist hotels in 2005-06 in which more than 100 people died.
"For Israel, the chaos in the Sinai means the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)and intelligence community must reorient scarce resources to the South," Riedel writes. "Even a relatively small number of terrorists hiding in the remote mountains of the central Sinai would be a dangerous threat to the stability of the region. They could target the pipeline, the border, tourists at Sharm el-Shaykh and even American troops" charged with monitoring the Sinai peace accord.