Homeland Security

ISIS in Egypt: The Other Big Threat to the West

Senior U.S. intelligence officials now say they’re almost sure—one of them calls it “99.9% certain”—that a Russian plane that crashed into the northern Sinai Peninsula on October 31 was brought down by a bomb. (Update: Russia now confirms it.)

Although the attacks in Paris on Saturday, November 14, which killed about 130, have gotten far more media attention, the Russian crash exacted a considerably higher toll with 224 people killed, mostly Russian holidaymakers returning from the Sharm al-Sheikh resort in Sinai.

One of the reasons the Paris attacks had a greater impact is that ISIS was clearly behind them. But U.S., British, and Israeli intelligence officials are now saying it was apparently behind the Sinai crash, too.

That assessment is based on chatter that was picked up after the crash between Sinai Province—an ISIS affiliate in Sinai that claims credit for the atrocity—and ISIS Central.

Investigators also say the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder indicate that the crash was no accident and an explosion was involved.

ISIS, for the time being, does not pose a threat to France’s existence as a country. But ISIS and other Islamist terror organizations do pose a threat to Egypt’s survival—at least as a moderate, nonbelligerent, pro-Western country under the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

That, Bloomberg reports, is the view of Israeli officials who are “concerned el-Sisi’s government will fall” and say he is under constant death threats.

One reason for these worries is the ineptness so far—so says an Israeli analyst—of Egypt’s military campaign against the terrorists in Sinai. Another is the ongoing chaos in neighboring Libya, which has become a jihadist maelstrom since Western powers bombed the nonbelligerent Gaddafi regime out of existence.

And another is the situation within Egypt itself, where the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are working hard—not without success—to get the young population on their side.

Working in the Islamists’ favor is Egypt’s economic instability—now considerably worsened by the bombing of the plane, a major blow to Egypt’s crucial tourist industry.

How bad would it be if el-Sisi’s government fell? Very bad.

Egypt, as a major Arab country of 82 million and the custodian of the Suez Canal through which most of the West’s oil passes, would give the jihadists a much vaster land and population base, and much greater economic power, than ISIS now has in parts of Iraq and Syria.

War with Israel would be an eventual certainty. And the jihadists would gain a huge staging ground, and resources, for potentially catastrophic attacks on the West.

On the more hopeful side, Western powers have been waking up to the reality and treating el-Sisi as the strategic ally he truly is. British Prime Minister David Cameron was described as giving him the red-carpet treatment during el-Sisi’s visit to Britain last week.

Even the Obama administration—which had punished el-Sisi for overthrowing, with massive popular support, Mohamed Morsi’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood regime, which the administration, appallingly, supported—had fully restored arms sale to Egypt by early this year.

The objection to el-Sisi has centered on the harshness of his crackdown on the Brotherhood and other Islamists, which indeed has seen the killing of hundreds and the jailing of thousands, and hardly meets Western judicial standards.

But as Israel has long realized, in the Middle East one doesn’t get to choose between good and bad, but—sometimes—between not-so-good and much, much worse.

In the wake of the terrorist hit on the Russian plane, another Egyptian military assault on ISIS in Sinai is expected. With ISIS in Sinai receiving guns from Libya and funding from ISIS Central, Egypt’s effort should get full U.S. and Western backing.

They can take a cue from Israel. Devoid of illusions about Egypt or the region, its intelligence services have been helping el-Sisi’s army fight the terrorists.