ISIS, Russia, and Egypt

What really happened to Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 over Sinai a few days ago? Forget it. The fatal crash does not matter any more. Regardless of what truly did or did not happen to the Russian plane, the prevailing theory is that ISIS planted a bomb that led to the plane crash, and this has entered and stuck in the global mindset.

Communications and “chatter,” allegedly uncovered by British intelligence, followed by Britain suspending all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh has been enough to cement this possibility within the global consciousness. Britain and the United States have offered no evidence, however, as it is too late for a drawn out inquiry. Perception has won the day and Islamic State (IS) has secured a major psychological victory.

The Islamic State affiliate in Egypt has gained a prestigious reputation. It is now portrayed in global media as an upgraded, sophisticated terror group that has extended its sphere of influence beyond its initial bases in North Sinai, capable of recruiting Egyptians in sensitive positions, and maintaining their names and details in secret. Egypt will now live under the shadow of this monstrous perception with a tremendous impact on its security and economy.

Since the rise of the Islamic State, counter-terrorism experts have explained the main difference between this group and others like Al-Qaeda by the far enemy/near-enemy theory. As such, Al-Qaeda focuses on far enemies like the United States and Israel, launching attacks like 9/11. Meanwhile, the Islamic state has had different priorities, mainly establishing a “state” for itself and for its affiliates in countries around the region. This is precisely why, when Egypt’s Al-Qaeda affiliated terror group Ansar Beit Al-Magdis (ABM) swore loyalty to the Islamic State in November 2014, it shifted its focus from targeting the Israeli border to more local targets against the Egyptian Army in North Sinai and other areas, with fewer attacks in the rest of Egypt.

What has made the IS shift in style and copycat old techniques from its rival Al-Qaeda? The easiest answer is to respond to the Russians who are officially fighting IS in Syria. However, this answer ignores how the Russians focused on moderate rebels in Syria and not ISIS. In contrast, other countries, mainly America and France have been targeting IS for month, but none of their planes were attacked. If IS has managed to recruit conspirators at Sharm El-Sheikh airport, why it did not do the same in other failed states in the region, such as Libya, Syria or Iraq?

The assumption that Sharm El-Sheikh is more vulnerable than other Middle Eastern airports is false, and there have never been major security incidences in any other airport. In Egypt, however, since the collapse of Mubarak regime, there have been far more episodes of instability with deteriorating security, chaos, prison breaks, and street fights. If the group has agents in the airport, why they did not try to bring down more planes? Domestic Egyptian planes are arguably more vulnerable and easier to attack. Why didn’t IS release any details? The bomb’s theory is very plausible, but plausibility and some intelligence leaks are not enough to make it a fact.

Regardless of all this speculation, in fact, whether or not the Russian plane crash was indeed caused by a terror attack, it is more paramount for Egypt to turn this tragic event to its advantage. The Islamic State should not be allowed to establish its dream state by targeting domestic planes. If the terror group resorted already to such tactics, then is a potential sign of weakness hiding under the evil glamour of terror. The group has failed to clinch a state in Egypt, and it may have resorted to bombing planes just to maintain a deceptive perception of existence.

Therefore, the Egyptian authority must work harder to project this weak side of IS, and enhance its counter-terrorism abilities. Airport security may need substantial updates, but other aspects of fighting IS must also be considered.

This Russian tragedy might have been Egypt’s version of 9/11. Egypt should project itself as a responsible country that need support, not a reckless state that is hiding its own wrongdoing. Bomb or not, Egypt must prevail against terrorism in these circumstances.

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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16 Responses to ISIS, Russia, and Egypt

  1. George Jankauskas says:

    I have feeling Egypt was just played with by the west as a means to get at Russia. With all this tourist mania they are unable to scare the Russians but do have control over western travel and they played that card. Very sad day for Egyptians both if it was a bomb or not as now all will pay the price of these politics.

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. عبده says:

    So why are you going along with the “assumptions” and the “chatter”. There’s no reason for Egypt to play the needy victims in this. We all know how Egypt is a disaster in waiting but for an accident like this, we need to wait for the findings. It is not only analyzing the “boxes” – there should be many more clues in forensic evidence. Explosive devices are not made to fly away from the debris. The Russians have been invited to contribute with know how as we plainly admit we do not have enough to analyze the evidence. Egypt has also been in the aviation industry for long enough to appreciate the importance of analyzing what’s potentially a failure.

    What is a tragedy is the death of people whom Egypt was trying to give a good time. At the prices Egypt is selling it’s hospitality at, it must be appreciated that any shortcomings in security will be bolstered. Perhaps Egypt should be looking at improving oversight of airlines who are allowed to fly into or over the country in order to reduce the risks to it’s visitors.


  3. Magdi Shalash says:

    Simply great & illuminated 🙂 (in the good sense) …oh & wow for the most articulate English writing that I’ve read in a while


  4. Khaled El Shalakany says:

    Excellent analysis…many thanks we need more of these constructive insights


  5. Mara says:

    I could not have said it better myself. This could well be a turning point for Egypt for the better – it depends on what they do now.


  6. Mara says:

    I could not have said it better myself. This could be a turning point for Egypt for the better – it all depends on what they do now.


  7. Pingback: ISIS, Russia, and Egypt | Nervana | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  8. Amr says:

    Your analysis is very accurate and pragmatic,Egypt need to move forward with transparency,change many things ints was of communication,but one can’t help to believe that many in the World and in Egypt were in many forms,somehow “happy” that the tragic event happened,testing on the death of 220 people showed in my humble opinion their true stand on Human rights,,
    I reiterate my appreciation for your very good article and I want to stress that among the know bloggers you are among the very few who made sense in a sea of so called “keyboard freedom fights” and human right activist whose main focus was to hit POE Sisi,intentionally or nor that remains to be seen: Affecting the livelihood of many Egyptian who they don’t respect and who in turn and rightly so don’t respect them


  9. Starker says:

    The reluctance of Isis to reveal how they destroyed the plane is likely to be due to the fact that in fact they did not down it. Should they make up a story about their modus operandi now, they run the risk of it becoming inconsistent when the results of the investigation (black boxes, forensics etc) are declared and vetted by the foreign experts on the team. Waiting for the investigation results before propagandising a narrative has the advantage of making the latter consistent with the former. Conclusion: Maybe their non announcement is proof that they were lying to start with.

    However it seems to me that even if they committed the monstrous crime this would be consistent with their weakened state after the summer and fall army offensive which killed or captured a great number of them. (Over 1200 at the very least according to the army facebook pictures of the dead and prisonner terrorists, many wearing their cheap fatigues). Sending a small number of leftover operatives or suicidal bombers to soft targets (as opposed to large scale assaults against military targets) may be the only remaining opportunities they have left.

    By the way some of the videos on the army facebook showing apaches assaults on terrorists targets indicate the assistance of Israeli drone pilots in directing the apaches to their targets, with audio confirmation of target destruction by the Israeli drone pilot to the Egyptian apache pilots at the end.

    As Nervana said two important things:
    – Leverage the terrorist weakness by keeping hitting them mercilessly
    – Introduce new strategies adapted to defending small team attacks on soft targets

    One last thing: Egyptians may have their problems but cutting and running from terror is not one of them, contrary to Europeans. Proof: the hundreds of captains, ltn colonels and generals killed in action while leading assaults.


  10. Amr says:

    a Note I would like to add from a friend:

    9/11 about 4 planes were hijacked in major US airports, one of them crashed straight into the pentagon. …yet no one criticized the security measures in the US airports. ….few months ago a German pilot took a flight down intintially killing everyone on board, no one criticized German flights security messuers. …Malaysian aircraft was shot down no one dared to say flights over European territories not safe….but one flight crashes over Sinai all hell broke loose and world Media’s major issue is candy crush in Sharm airport!


  11. fouad milad says:

    I think there is more in the minds to make Egypt pushed to a war which start in Sinai which is the main plan to continue for the new middle east


  12. jp1lk says:

    Call me a cynic but the UK Government is trying to pass a law that allows them to survey all of our messages, emails phone calls etc etc.
    It is very useful to them therefore to create the impression that their ability to spy on the electronic communications going on IN ANOTHER COUNTRY will somehow stop ISIS?!!
    The real problem is that they have lied so many times before that I don’t believe anything they say. Unless it’s Corbyn speaking, of course ;).


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