North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Egypt tackles Islamic militants in Sinai peninsula amid the removal of top armed forces generals

Egypt's government, headed by President Mohamed Morsi, moved on two aspects of the nation's security and governance the past week.

Egypt's population lives primarily along the Nile River, but the country controls the strategic and lucrative shipping lanes of the Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and ostensibly has jurisdiction over the vast Sinai Peninsula

On Sunday, August 12, President Morsi fired (dismissed, sacked, replaced ...)the powerful head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of staff Sami Annan. President Mursi, according to a BBC article, also said a constitutional declaration aimed at curbing presidential powers had been cancelled. He characterized his actions as transitioning to a newer generation of military leaders, itself just part of the natural continuance of the revolution.

Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi (left), new Egyptian President Morsi (center), and Chief of staff Sami Annan (right).

Replacing Tantawi, however, according to the UK Guardian newspaper, is the head of military intelligence, Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi – one of the generals who defended the use of "virginity tests" against female protesters in March 2011.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the new head of the Egyptian military and 44th defense minister in the history of the modern Egyptian army since its formation more than 200 years ago. In his mid-50s, he is one of the youngest members of the military council that was previously headed by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.

Mursi, elected in June to Egypt's presidency, is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. After the Muslim Brotherhood's preferred candidate, Khairat El-Shater was disqualified from the 2012 presidential election, Morsi, the backup candidate, emerged and eventually won a narrow runoff.

One BBC reporter noted that Egypt's generals had exercised power behind the throne for decades and then exercised it directly in the months since the fall of former Egyptian President (and strong man) Hosni Mubarak, but suggested that "Mr Mursi's opponents may have underestimated him. Egypt's army was unprepared for a recent attack on a security base in the Sinai desert by Islamic militants in which 16 soldiers died. Mr Mursi appears to be seizing on that failure - which shocked ordinary Egyptians - to move against two key members of the high command."

So, we will continue to see how the tense relationship between Egypt's military and the new Islamist government shakes out.

The larger story, perhaps, was an attack in the Sinai Peninsula last week in the small town of Sheikh Zuwaid (see map) in which Islamic militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards and soldiers. As noted above, this clash with some variant of Islamic extremists rattled Egypt's armed forces, and added to the burden of the Egyptian government in in its responsibility to govern the vast desert area that borders both Israel and the Hamas-run Gaza strip.

The Sinai Peninsula is Egypt's but as an aftermath of the war with Israel in 1973, there have been strict limits agreed to between the two countries on what weaponry and military assets the Egyptian armed forces can deploy in this region.

From the Jerusalem Post newspaper, "the perpetrators of [last] Sunday's attack were part of a global jihad terrorist infrastructure operating inside the Sinai that was made up mostly of local Beduin. During the attack, some 35 armed men stormed an Egyptian military base, killing 16 policemen and soldiers.

On Monday, Egypt branded the attackers “infidels” and vowed to launch a crackdown throughout the Sinai. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday that Egypt has enough forces to deal with terrorism in Sinai, responding to suggestions that Israel will consider any Egyptian request to deploy additional military forces in the Sinai. "There are enough forces in Sinai, it's now just a matter of making a decision," he said. Until now, Israel has permitted the Egyptians to deploy about seven battalions in the Sinai, although under the peace treaty the peninsula is meant to remain demilitarized. "The campaign aims at closing all the openings between Egypt and the Gaza Strip that are used in smuggling operations," said the security source.

Egyptian forces began moving in force into the Sinai after consultation with the Israeli government.

According to other reports, the majority of Sinai bedouin clans have endorsed Egypt's move to more robustly police the peninsula. Since the "Arab Spring" revolution in Egypt more than 1 year ago, the military had reduced its actions in and attention to the peninsula, concentrating on Cairo and other population centers. As a result, tribal leaders said there had been a clear upswing in lawlessness and influence by Islamic extremists into the relative vacuum.

While Egypt's move to counter growing extremism in the peninsula is understandable - especially when the rather notorious Islamic Muslim Brotherhood itself is now running the country, a more perplexing move by Egypt also occurred on the border with the Gaza strip.

Smuggling tunnels, apparently looked at with a blind or generous eye by Egypt for decades, were being sealed by the Egyptian army. It underscores a tense relationship that exists with Hamas that rules the narrow strip of land

Tunnels along the border with Gaza are suddenly being sealed off - whether it is a short term show or calculation by the Egyptian government to present a moderate and balanced image, or a message to Hamas that Egypt's generosity cannot be taken for granted is still to be determined.

While Tunisia and Libya have both shown admirable progress in the past 18 months in their respective countries in terms of moderate politics and relatively peaceful transitions, Egypt's many tensions within itself, and with its neighbors are still in play.

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