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Operation Sinai 2018
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 15 - 02 - 2018

On 24 November, members of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group brutally killed over 350 worshippers who were performing the Friday prayers at Al-Rawda Mosque in a small town in North Sinai. The attack was the worst ever in Egypt's history, killing in cold blood children as well as their parents who were trying to protect them with their bodies.
The terrorist group wanted to send a message that they could still move freely in that small part of North Sinai, despite continuous pounding and attacks by Egypt's army and police against them over the past four years, particularly since the popular revolt that led to the removal of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013.
A few days after the attack on Al-Rawda Mosque, on 29 November, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and to the surprise of many observers, ordered the Army Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazi in an open meeting to put an end to terrorism in Sinai “in three months”. The army and police have already been conducting intense military operations against terrorists in Sinai, achieving major successes against IS and reducing, to a great extent, attacks in Sinai and all over Egypt.
Meanwhile, the president and army commanders overseeing the operations were aware that defeating terrorism in Sinai would not be possible without the support of the local population. Therefore, military operations were conducted cautiously in order to avoid any harm to the local population who have already been suffering much over the past few years in Sinai.
However, Al-Rawda Mosque attack was a turning point, and leaders of local tribes in North Sinai spearheaded demands for an overall operation that would wipe out, once and for all, terrorist groups in that region. Considering that the attack against the mosque was preceded by similar horrific terrorist crimes targeting innocent Christian worshippers in churches in Tanta, Alexandria and Cairo, as well as attacks killing army and police officers and soldiers in Sinai and the Western Desert, an overall military operation aimed at terrorist groups across Egypt was a must.
“Operation Sinai 2018”, which the army announced Friday, was launched to fulfil the order issued by Al-Sisi to deal a heavy blow to terrorist groups active in Egypt, neighbouring countries, and the entire Middle East region. Countries like Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have simply disintegrated after terrorist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda benefited from the fall of their armies and national institutions, turning them into safe havens and pillars in their illusion to build a so-called “Islamic State”.
Egypt's army and government would not tolerate such a scenario happening here. And if the gradual, determined effort to fight the threat of terrorism was not enough to diminish this extreme danger, a comprehensive operation such as “Operation Sinai 2018” would certainly help towards reaching that goal.
The fact that the operation started more than two months after the president issued his order to the army's chief of staff increases the chances of its success, as it was clearly planned for and prepared over that period. Its results will be devastating for terrorist organisations.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal noted that intelligence information had pointed out that terrorist groups were planning a series of attacks ahead of upcoming presidential elections 26 March, in order to send a message to Egyptians and the world that the situation in Egypt remained unstable, despite all efforts exerted by the army and government over the past five years to fight terrorism, restore stability and achieve economic progress. Thus, “Operation Sinai 2018” extended all over the country, and was not limited to North Sinai.
On the same day the army announced the launch of its major military operation, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest of 14 suspects, members of the Hasm (Decisiveness) terrorist group, the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood group, responsible for several arson attacks as well as assassination attempts against government officials, army and police officers. The ministry said the suspects were planning several attacks in the Cairo area ahead of the upcoming elections.
Egypt will continue its determined war against terrorist groups simply because we have no other option than to confront this cancer-like danger. As a matter of fact, many Egyptians believe this comprehensive operation was long overdue. Widespread popular support for this operation, and appreciation for the dire sacrifices in human lives offered by the army and police, is clear evidence that the political and military leaderships have taken the right decision. We can only wish the army and the Egyptian people success in this serious effort to put an end to the danger of terrorism.

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