Over the weekend, masked gunmen attacked an Egyptian military base in the Sinai peninsula, killing 16 Egyptian soldiers; the group then fled into Israeli territory, where several of the militants were killed. The Muslim Brotherhood quickly claimed the attack “can be attributed to the Mossad,” natch.
The group was likely an Islamist group of the kind that’s been operating in Sinai and other remote parts of Egypt for years, though no one’s taken responsibility for it yet. Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak called the attack a “wake-up call” for Egypt’s government, arguing that enforcing security in Sinai is essential for the continued cooperation between the two nations. He’s right, but unfortunately it’s not clear the Egyptian government wants to be woken up: The abilities of Egypt’s military and security state will likely continue to atrophy under the incompetent Islamist post-revolution government, allowing Sinai to become more unstable, and the Muslim Brotherhood government is less than completely enthusiastic about cracking down on Islamist groups, with which it not long ago sympathized as a banned group under Mubarak.
UPDATE: Tuesday evening, more attacks were reported, with three checkpoints attacked, wounding six. It looks to have been only low-level violence, but interestingly, AP reports that the Egyptian military responded with an attack by helicopter gunships firing missiles; unnamed security officials said this was the first time since 1973 that airborne attacks had been carried out in the Sinai. Thus, it’s certainly not time to count out the Egyptian military’s ability or willingness to crack down on militancy, but especially in response to tonight’s attacks, this does seem like a bit of an overreaction — which again could be read as a sign of weakness or lack of commitment to the real battles that are necessary.