When Menachem Begin returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt in 1982, Israel thought it was getting not only peace but, in exchange, a buffer zone that would protect it from a hitherto intractable foe. The northern coastal plain connecting Africa to Asia was too scrubby to sustain much life. Its largest town and provincial capital was called El Arish, Arabic for palm huts. Arid inhospitable mountains dominated the center and south. And the Camp David Accords that Egypt and Israel signed in 1978 required Egypt to keep its soldiers and tanks away from the Sinai; the eastern half was turned into a demilitarized zone monitored by a US-dominated multinational force.
All that is changing as new forces pile in. Egypt has a new ruling party that sees Israel more as a threat than an ally...
... rapid population growth has turned Sinai’s indigenous population of Bedouin people into a power to contend with, particularly in the corner of North Sinai where Egypt, Israel, and Gaza meet.
The Bedouin people are descendants of the nomads who crossed the Red Sea from the Arabian Peninsula between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. They consider themselves Egypt’s only real Arabs, and view other Egyptians as Arabized Africans. Their numbers have grown eightfold in forty years; today, several of their twenty tribes are tens of thousands strong. And though many are moving to new sprawling cities like El Arish, the tribes have established separate suburbs and have yet to settle down...
...Ostracized by the Mubarak regime, which viewed them as a potential fifth column and denied them a share of the tourism industry on Sinai’s coast, Sinai’s Bedouin tapped other sources of finance and support. To the north, they found a ready partner in Hamas, which was under siege by Israel and anxious to find alternative supplies of food, fuel, and sometimes arms. Together, Sinai’s Bedouin and Hamas dug—sometimes with Egyptian government collusion—hundreds of tunnels under their common border. Their cross-border clan networks, intimate knowledge of the terrain—“I can tell a man’s tribe from his footprint,” a Bedu told me—and contempt for twenty-first-century controls make the Bedouin expert traffickers. Fancy villas, with roofs fashioned as pagodas and garages for Lexuses, in North Sinai’s once dirt-poor villages testify to the extent of their success...
Incidentally, Caroline Glick emphasized that development at the February 2011book launch of Peace in the Making:
Over the past 20 years or so, the power of Egypt's central authority in its hinterlands has weakened. The strength of the Bedouin has grown. And over the past decade or so, the Bedouin of Sinai, like the Bedouin from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to Israel have become aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and its al Qaida and Hamas spinoffs.
The Bedouin attacks on Egyptian police and border guard installations in al Arish and Suez over the past three weeks are an indication that the fear of a strong state, which was so central to Israel's thinking in during the peace process with Egypt, is no longer Israel's most urgent concern. Transnational jihadists in the Sinai are much more immediately threatening than the Egyptian military is. But the peace treaty - signed with a military dictator -- provides neither Israel nor Egypt with tools to deal with this threat.
AS ISRAEL moves into the uncharted territory of managing its relations with the post-Mubarak Egypt, it is imperative that our leaders understand the lessons of the past.