ISIS claims attack that kills 11 Egyptian troops, as US, EU, Arabs condemn assault
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Eleven Egyptian soldiers, including one officer, were killed in an attack in the Sinai desert, just east of the Suez Canal, on Saturday. At least five other soldiers were wounded in the attack, which targeted a water pumping station. Those responsible for the assault managed to flee, and Egyptian forces were still hunting for them on Monday morning. On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the assault.
"It was the heaviest loss of life the army had suffered in years in its long-running campaign in and around the Sinai against militants loyal to the Islamic State group," the Voice of America reported.
ISIS Triggers Attacks on Israelis
The ISIS attack in the Sinai came as Israel suffers its worst spate of terrorist assaults in many years. Relations between Israel and the Palestinians are chronically tense, and any spark can trigger a sustained series of violent exchanges.
The current chain of assaults began with two attacks by Israeli Arabs on March 22 and 27. Six Israelis were killed in the assaults, and the attackers in both had ties to ISIS.
The attacks were unusual. "Groups associated with global jihadist ideologies, IS [ISIS], al-Qaeda, and their affiliates have orchestrated virtually no operations in Israel," wrote Ido Levy, an associate fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In addition, ISIS may have timed its attacks, for maximum effect, to the start of Ramadan on April 1, when religious tensions would be running at their highest, particularly as the Jewish holiday of Passover occurred in mid-April, from April 15 to April 23, in the middle of Ramadan. Moreover, the Christian holiday of Easter was April 17.
The attacks and counter-attacks that began on March 22 have continued. They have left 19 Israelis and 27 Palestinians dead.
Just on Sunday alone, there were three incidents. In one, a Palestinian, armed with a knife, was shot dead as he tried to infiltrate a West Bank settlement. Just before that, a Palestinian stabbed a police officer in the neck at a gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. And in a third incident, a Palestinian attempting to cross illegally into Israel was shot dead by Israeli soldiers seeking to arrest him.
Like Saturday's terrorist attack on Egyptian forces, the spate of assaults on Israeli targets is without recent precedent. Moreover, ISIS is resurgent in Afghanistan.
The attack in Egypt adds to the salience of the question that Kurdistan 24 asked last week, "Is terrorism increasing more widely?"
Attack Against Egyptian Forces Widely Denounced by US, Others
Egypt is the most populous Arab state. That, along with its central location, makes it a key player in Middle Eastern politics. For many decades, securing Egypt's stability has been seen as an important factor in securing regional stability more broadly.
Late on Saturday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price released a statement denouncing the attack while affirming the importance of US ties with Egypt.
"The United States condemns today's terrorist attack in the Sinai targeting members of the Egyptian military," Price said. "For decades, the United States has been and remains Egypt's strong partner in confronting terrorism in the region," and we "express our profound condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in this heinous attack."
The European Union, as well as Britain and Italy, issued similar statements, as did numerous Arab states and organizations, including Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. In addition, Pakistan and Turkey denounced the attack.
Silence from Syria, Iran
Notably, neither Syria nor Iran said anything. Baathist Syria is a long-time ally of Iran, going back to the 1979 Islamic revolution, which overthrew the Shah and brought the current regime to power.
On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare trip out of the country, visiting Tehran. He met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali al-Khamenei and Iran's new hard-line president Ebrahim Raisi.
It was Assad's second trip to Iran since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011. Russian and Iranian interventions were crucial in helping Assad to prevail in that conflict.
"The strategic ties between Iran and Syria have prevented the Zionist regime's dominance in the region," Assad told his hosts while they hailed Damascus, affirming, "The respect and prestige of Syria is greater than before, and everyone sees this country as a power."