In November 2017, days after the attack on Rawda, in which militants killed more than 300 civilians, most of whom were praying in Belal Mosque, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi charged Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid Hegazy and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar with eliminating all terrorist groups from Sinai within three months. After two months had elapsed, however, neither the Armed Forces nor the police had completed any noteworthy counterinsurgency operations.
On February 9, 2018, the Egyptian armed forces launched Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018 to target terrorist and criminal elements and organizations in northern and central Sinai, parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert. The operation involves land, naval and air forces, as well as police and border guards.
On February 27, 2018, Egyptian media reported that Farid had asked El-Sisi to extend the operation for another three months.
On April 25, 2018, the re-elected president vowed to accomplish the goals of the ongoing Sinai anti-terror operation as soon as possible and to fulfill the comprehensive development project in Sinai with over $15 billion by 2022.
In an interview to Al-Ahram, Egypt's Armed Forces Spokesperson Tamer El-Refaie highlighted the latest developments on the ground and the achievements of the Sinai 2018 operation:
- The major achievement of Operation Sinai 2018 is the re-establishment of normal living conditions for residents, and the restoration of security in areas cleansed of terrorism in the governorate.
- In the context of the policy of “cutting the heads” of the terrorist organization, Egyptian security sources have confirmed the death of the ISIS Sinai Province commander Mohamed Abdel-Latif Abu Jazr, aka Abu Jafar Al-Maqdisi, during a raid launched by the military in Sheikh Zuweid. ISIS was the first to report Abu Jazr’s death via its account on the messaging application Telegram. This is the second high-level assassination in ISIS ranks in Sinai in the last three months.
- On 18 April, the leader of the terrorist organization in Central Sinai, Nasser Abu Zaqoul, was killed during an exchange of fire with the Third Field Army. In recent months, command positions in ISIS Sinai Province have been filled by operatives from Gaza who have defected from Palestinian factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
- Since the launch of the operation Sinai 2018 in February, army forces have killed more than 321 terrorists and confiscated more than 1000 improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
- Operation Sinai 2018 has succeeded in cutting arms and ammunition supply lines to terrorists.
- The Egyptian armed forces are currently working on completing the North Sinai buffer zone, bordering the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian forces had also discovered and destroyed a number of tunnels in the city of Rafah in North Sinai.
- The Egyptian armed forces are executing a technologically advanced system to limit communication between terrorist elements and enhance security capabilities. An Israeli official hinted that a disruption to cell phone coverage across southern Israel was caused by fighting in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
On February 25, 2018, in the midst of the ongoing campaign in Sinai, President El-Sisi inaugurated the East of the Suez Canal Counter-Terrorism Command.
In addition to counter-terrorism operations, development efforts are ongoing in parallel in North Sinai. The Armed Forces Engineering Authority has completed 134 projects worth EGP 175 billion in the peninsula ($9.8 billion), out of the 290 included in the development plan.
Ibrahim Mehleb, a presidential aide for national and strategic projects and former prime minister, said that a project to develop Sinai peninsula should be completed by 2022 at the cost of some EGP 275 billion ($15.6 billion), describing the scheme as “a project for national security.”
The project includes plans for a comprehensive network of roads, residential and industrial developments, four water desalination plants, hospitals and sewage networks, Mehleb said.
Operation Sinai 2018 is a major component of Egypt's counter-terror strategy, and it will have a significant long-term impact on the terror threat in the country.
After five months, ISIS Sinai province is weaker but still very much a force to be reckoned with. Hence, the Egyptian security forces will have to prolong the operation for a lengthy period.
Israel is closely following the developments on its border. It also agreed to let its neighbor move troops into the Sinai far exceeding in number what had been set down in the peace agreement between the two countries in 1979. Obviously, eliminating the threat of terror and ensuring the stability of the regime are of paramount importance for the security of Israel.