The tensions between the Sinai Bedouins and the Islamic State Wilayat [province] in Sinai has only escalated after ISIS kidnapped four Bedouins in the Rafah area on May 22, 2017, beheaded them, and sent their bodies back to Bedouin territory in the southern area of Rafah, so that the corpses could be seen by their fellow Bedouin.
The problems between the Bedouin and ISIS began in April 2017, when members of ISIS confronted the Tarabin tribe, the largest tribe in Sinai, over its smuggling operation to the Gaza Strip, which is the main source of the tribe’s income.
ISIS hit the Tarabin’s smuggling routes to the Gaza Strip. ISIS objected to the smuggling of cigarettes to the Gaza Strip on the grounds that it was contrary to Islamic Sharia and even blew up one of the Tarabin trucks that delivered cigarettes from Egypt to the smuggling tunnels of the Gaza Strip.
This escalation resulted in killings and kidnappings on both sides. The Tarabin tribe later joined with the Egyptian army, which provided it with weapons and even managed to unite other Bedouin tribes against ISIS.
The heads of the Tarabin tribe succeeded in establishing a new organization called the “Tribal Union of Sinai,” which works in full cooperation with the Egyptian army against ISIS.
This association has a military wing called the “Shahid Salem Lafi Brigades,” and it is fighting in the field against ISIS.
Bedouin Accusations against Hamas
On May 24, 2017, the Tribal Union of Sinai released a leaflet in which it accused Hamas of being an ally to ISIS in Sinai.
The leaflet strongly criticized Hamas for allowing ISIS members to enter the Gaza Strip through the Sinai tunnels and for supplying them with weapons, training, medical care, and shelter in the Gaza Strip.
The leaflet warned Hamas not to assist ISIS activists and demanded the extradition to Egypt of all ISIS operatives hiding in the Gaza Strip.
“We will not allow anyone to help ISIS and we will strike with iron fists anyone who defies the blood of the martyrs,” the leaflet said.
The demands of the Bedouin tribes of the Hamas movement in Gaza are identical to those of the Egyptian army.
The Bedouin pledged to return the Sinai Peninsula into a quiet and secure area and sent a message to ISIS: “You will find no mercy or compassion on our part, the screams of the mothers of shaheeds and their curses will chase you into your graves, detention cells, and tunnels.”
Bedouin Relations with the Egyptian Army
Bedouin tribes joining the efforts of the Egyptian army to eradicate terror in the Sinai is very important. The Bedouin do so out of their economic interests and not because of an ideological motive. In the ranks of ISIS in Sinai are many young men who were recruited from Bedouin tribes.
However, according to a May 16, 2017 report in the Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed newspaper, Egyptian General Intelligence warned President al-Sisi about the outbreak of a civil war in Sinai between the Bedouin tribes and ISIS.
According to Egyptian intelligence, this model is not suitable for the war against ISIS, since this method also failed in Libya after General Khalifa Haftar tried to organize several tribes in order to defeat ISIS.
However, the results of the military and intelligence cooperation between the Egyptian army and Bedouin tribes against ISIS in Sinai has proved to be positive and allows the Egyptian army to recover from the ISIS attacks in Sinai.
Egyptian sources said that the number of attacks by ISIS on the Egyptian army and the Egyptian police in the Sinai Peninsula had decreased.
So far, some 20 members of the Tarabin tribe have been killed in the armed confrontation with ISIS in the Rafah area and the town of Sheikh Zuweid.
The Egyptian regime’s media outlets present the connection between the Bedouin tribes and the Egyptian army against ISIS as a victory for the state over the terrorist organization.
The connection of the Bedouin tribes to the Egyptian army disrupted the ISIS organization’s plans to expand from northern Sinai to the rest of the regions. The balance of power is now more favorable for the Egyptian army, since the Bedouin tribes know the area much better than ISIS, and according to the proclamation they published, the Egyptian army has cleared extensive areas from terrorist organizations.
These developments are good for Israel as well, and will help maintain relative quiet in Sinai. On May 22, 2017, a rocket was fired from the Sinai into Israel, and miraculously there were no casualties.
The organization of the Bedouin tribes in Sinai against Hamas increases the isolation of the movement that President Trump labeled at the Riyadh conference as a “terrorist organization.”
The Bedouin tribes are well aware of all the smuggling routes into the Gaza Strip and can cut off the supply of food, fuel, and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Therefore, it is quite possible that the Hamas movement will try to appease the Bedouin tribes in Sinai and Egypt, prevent the entry of ISIS members from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, and keep a lower profile concerning the Hamas-ISIS cooperation.
Hamas is in distress and will do everything to keep its head above water.