The militarization of the Sinai by all kinds of extremist factions, as well as the spread of such parties inside Gaza, began under the nose of Hosni Mubarak, and has been going on in Gaza since Hamas took over the strip.
The skeleton presence of the Egyptian security forces in Sinai has acted as an invitation for such parties to begin operations in the area. In Gaza, these extremists have been a headache for Hamas, who only under pressure from time to time adopted some insignificant measures to combat them. They have not taken the problem seriously, and have made no serious inroads in trying to stem such violence and extremism.
These measures were of course ineffective in stemming either the presence or the influence of such groups, who have continued to carry out attacks against Israel.
But the uncoordinated and haphazard operations that have been carried out have only been an attempt to prove their existence, and have very rarely had any real impact on the Jewish state. On the contrary, they tend to give Israel an excuse to retaliate with disproportionate force, and disproportionate casualties.
The latest attacks over the weekend, when militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the border with Israel, have prompted Egypt’s young government to stand up and, with the clear support of the Egyptians, denounce such organizations and consequently the areas from where they have bases, namely the Gaza Strip.
This has pushed back the efforts to abolish the siege of Gaza that has been affecting ordinary Gazans, encouraging them to use tunnels as lifelines, in which they smuggled everything from cars to toothpaste. Egypt has now begun sealing these tunnels indefinitely.
Gaza is back to square one, facing a determined Egyptian government and military more ready to block Hamas’ efforts for a border crossing to be opened to end Gaza’s blockade. Israel now has further excuses to carry out operations against what it calls militants, without it fearing international rebuke.
The damage that has been done by the attack on the weekend is huge, and the remedy will take some time.
Hamas now has to prove is seriousness in combating these organizations in order to gain the confidence of Egypt one more time and for Egypt, which has understandable concerns for the safety of its citizens, to be convinced that this incident was a one-off, and will not affect its relations with either Gaza or Israel.
Resolving this situation will require efforts at the highest level, to limit the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza and to ensure the security of the Egyptians.
This will require that statesmen on either side rise to the challenge, and prove that they are worthy of representing their people. The world must wait to see whether or not this ideal situation will come to be.