A report released early today by the Israeli daily Haaretz sheds new light on the Israeli view of the Salafi jihadist groups in the Sinai Peninsula. Shin Bet officials believe there are at least 15 Salafi groups, some of which are affiliated with al Qaeda, currently operating in the Sinai, the daily stated.
Of the 15, four are “especially active in attempts to attack Israel Defense Forces soldiers along the border and fire rockets into Israel,” the report said. The four groups were identified as Ansar Jerusalem, Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam), and Al Takfir Wal Hijra.
Haaretz‘s report incorrectly stated that Ansar Jerusalem was behind the recent rocket attack on Eilat (the MSC was), and provided no source for its claim that al Takfir wal Hijra was responsible for the August 2012 attack on a Rafah military outpost that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. Last October, Israeli media reported that Israeli intelligence thought Ansar Jerusalem was behind most of the recent attacks originating from the Sinai.
Israeli intelligence agencies differ over the size of the Salafi jihadist groups in the Sinai. “While the Shin Bet estimates the number of operatives at several hundred people, Military Intelligence puts it at a few thousand,” Haaretz observed.
The report further noted that a number of foreign fighters have joined the Sinai-based jihadist groups, but the foundation is based around the Sinai Bedouin.
The Shin Bet has previously contended that elements of the “global jihad” are using the Sinai as a base to wage terror attacks against Israel. Western officials have similarly estimated in the past that at least several hundred jihadists, some of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, are now operating in the Sinai. Egyptian officials have also expressed concern that jihadists from Algeria and Libya are now operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
Haaretz also noted that a number of Gaza-based Palestinian fighters have exported their expertise to fighters in the Sinai. “The Salafi operatives from Gaza are all breakaways from Hamas and Islamic Jihad who know the IDF well and have accumulated much more combat experience than the operatives from Sinai …. The Gaza operatives are an operational asset, because they know how to plan and supervise attacks,” one official told Haaretz.
According to Haaretz, the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence (AMAN) have reached an agreement that makes the Shin Bet responsible “for thwarting attacks along the Egyptian border,” while AMAN is responsible for “electronic intelligence gathering, satellite photography and the balloon-mounted cameras tethered along the border that float into Sinai.”
The threat from the Sinai is viewed so seriously by Israel that “a new unit that deals solely with foiling attacks from Sinai” was recently established by the Shin Bet.
Haaretz‘s report cited an official as saying that Mumtaz Dughmush, the leader of Jaish al Islam, is running training camps in Gaza for jihadists who subsequently go to fight in Yemen, Sinai, and Syria, among other locations.