ISIS Is Still Alive and Well in Sinai, and Israel Fears a Major Attack on Its Egypt Border

Although the American-led coalition has successfully put down the Islamic State and forced most of its operatives out of the last areas they controlled in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, the group’s branch in the Sinai Peninsula is continuing to function without any noticeable problems.

More than a year after the collapse of Islamic State strongholds and its main command centers of Mosul in Iraq and in Raqqa in Syria, there may have been somewhat of a drop in the scope of the attacks by the organization in Sinai but it continues to battle the Egyptian army and its police force, causing them numerous casualties.

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The rise in activity by global jihad organizations in Sinai began in the last decade. At the beginning of this decade the most prominent among them was Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. In 2014, not long after ISIS declared the establishment of its “caliphates” in broad territories of Iraq and Syria, the operatives of the Sinai organization swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and changed the name of their group to Wilayat Sinai (“Sinai Province”).

A burned truck is seen outside Al-Rawda Mosque in Bir al-Abd in the northern Sinai, Egypt a day after attackers killed hundreds of worshipers, on Saturday, November 25, 2017. Tarek Samy / AP

Among the serious attacks attributed to them was planting a bomb on a Russian aircraft flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg in October 2015, which exploded and crashed the plane, killing 224 passengers and crew members. Two years later, in November 2017, the group’s operatives committed a multipronged attack that included suicide terrorists and gunmen that killed 309 worshipers in a mosque in northern Sinai.

In the summer of 2018 the Americans seized control of Mosul and Raqqa. Since then, it seems that some of the Islamic State fighters who fled the region managed to find their way to Sinai. The relatively direct transfer of funds and orders from the commanders in Iraq and Syria was cut off by the coalition’s success. Two months ago the American assassinated Baghdadi, who had fled to Idlib in northern Syria.

Also that summer, the Egyptian authorities announced a wide-ranging operation against Islamic State, which apparently had some success. Hundreds of Islamic State operatives were killed in the operation. Afterward, Islamic State moved most of its people to areas much further from the border with Israel, in an effort to evade the Egyptian attacks. Some of them are hiding in tent camps in the middle of the desert. Others have found refuge in neighborhoods of Bedouin towns.