Sinai Bedouin aligning with Egypt against ISIS
By Yoni Ben Menachem
In its battle against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, one of the main difficulties facing the Egyptian army has been the absence of accurate, real-time intelligence on the location of ISIS forces, experts on the war on terror agree. But it seems this problem is about to be resolved due to a series of missteps by the ISIS branch in Sinai involving the Bedouin Tarabin tribe, the largest tribe in Sinai.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Yawm al-Sabaa reported on April 30, 2017, that ISIS members kidnapped a number of Bedouin residents in northern Sinai in recent weeks and killed them.
In addition, ISIS carried out a suicide car bomb attack in the Bedouin area of Barth in southern Rafah, killing two Bedouins and wounding three others.
Following the attack, Tarabin Bedouins captured an ISIS operative and burned him to death in retaliation for the attack, according to Al Arabiya on April 28, 1017.
ISIS had quarreled with the Tarabin tribe, among other things, because of a dispute over the smuggling activity from Sinai to Gaza. Moreover, the Bedouin tribe Al-Faukharia was also furious at ISIS for kidnapping both the head of the tribe, Hamdi Jouda, and Bedouin businessman Muhammad Suhoub.
Each side has abducted members of the other side, and the Tarabin tribe holds three ISIS activists whom they kidnapped in northern Sinai.
The Bedouin tribes, who refused to cooperate with the Egyptian army against ISIS in northern Sinai over the past three years, have changed their minds since the Bedouins are fed up with the continued clashes with ISIS.
Bedouins Respond to ISIS’ Mass Killings
According to a report in Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed of April 29, 2017, over the past three years, ISIS operatives have shot and killed 300 members of Bedouin tribes in Sinai and beheaded another 200 Bedouin for allegedly “collaborating” with the Egyptian army and police forces, in order to terrorize and frighten the Bedouins into submission.
The violent clashes between the Bedouin tribes and ISIS have created a new tension in northern Sinai, and the situation is escalating.
After ISIS members tried to kidnap a Bedouin from the Tarabin tribe on April 14, 2017, the tribe temporarily abandoned its smuggling activities and decided to focus on taking revenge on ISIS.
On April 29, 2017, the Tarabin tribe published a statement calling on all the tribes to unite in order to fight the terrorism that threatens Egypt. The statement said that the Bedouin tribes are connected by blood, religion, and homeland and that they can respond with force and strike “those who wear masks and guns, paid by external bodies who are enemies of the Egyptian state.”
Four Bedouin tribes responded to the call by the Tarabin tribe to unite against ISIS.
Ibrahim al-Raja’i, one of the leaders of the Tarabin, announced that his tribe, together with the al-Sawarakh and Ramilat tribes, agreed to clean out ISIS forces from Sinai, in coordination with the Egyptian army.
“We are determined to get rid of those who burn, kill, and rob in the name of religion,” said al-Raja’i.
In the coming days, a number of Bedouin tribes will come together under the leadership of Sheikh Abed Almagid Almaniya in order to fight ISIS and remove them from Sinai.
The greatest beneficiary of this tension between ISIS and the Bedouin in Sinai is the Egyptian army. Cooperation with the Bedouin tribes will provide Egypt with a great deal of intelligence about the activities of ISIS, which Egypt previously lacked.
Sources in the al-Sawarkah tribe told Al-Yawm al-Sab’a that a large number of tribe members were already fighting alongside the Egyptian army against ISIS. The danger to ISIS in northern Sinai will indeed increase if the Bedouin tribes cooperate with the Egyptian army in its war against the organization.
The Tarabin tribe controls the area from south of Rafah until central Sinai, and on all the smuggling routes in the area. Thus, the Tarabin can prevent smuggling access to anyone it wishes.
In addition, the Tarabin tribe has a large military force and weapons that ISIS does not have. They also have lots of money and can buy new weapons.
Sources in the Egyptian army expressed optimism about the recent developments in northern Sinai. It is hoped that the conflict between ISIS and the Bedouin tribes will continue and even intensify, which will help the Egyptian army fight ISIS more effectively.
The weakening or removal of ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula is an important interest for Israel since ISIS has carried out a number of attacks against Israel from Sinai and has fired rockets at the city of Eilat.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.