Sinai Security: Opportunities for Unlikely Cooperation Among Egypt, Israel, and Hamas

With U.S. aid to Egypt now limited to areas of mutual interest, U.S. focus shifts to Egyptian counterterrorism and border security operations in the Sinai Peninsula. U.S. concern about Sinai is longstanding. However, since the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, what had been a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel has become increasingly lawless and unstable, threatening both countries.

Sinai Security web 1

The Saban Center’s new Analysis Paper, Sinai Security: Opportunities for Unlikely Cooperation Among Egypt, Israel, and Hamas, examines the interests of various actors in, and neighboring, Sinai; considers areas of mutual concern; and lays out the individual capabilities Egypt, Israel and Hamas have for addressing these threats, as well as opportunities for all parties to combine their core strengths to better address mutual interests. Despite these shared interests, the relationship between each of these actors is also extremely complicated. As such, this paper also considers obstacles to cooperation and opportunities for the United States to encourage trust-building and intelligence cooperation between Egypt and Israel.

Highlights include:

  • Showing the policy implications of the clear mutual interests Egypt, Israel and Hamas share in countering the rise of Salafi-jihadis in Sinai and avoiding border tensions that could escalate to full conflicts.
  • The extent to which Egyptian counter-smuggling and counterterrorism operations in Sinai have been conducted out of a perceived national security interest. Therefore, Egypt’s current operations are not being conducted because of U.S. demand for Israeli security, and such operations are unlikely to be halted because of suspended U.S. aid. 
  • How Hamas in Gaza is more concerned about maintaining its control of the territory than fighting Israel, despite statements –and sometimes actions—to the contrary. To avoid Israeli and Egyptian retaliation, Hamas has regularly cracked down on independent groups’ abilities to launch rockets against Israel from Gaza. Despite its own refusal to legitimate a terrorist group, Israel depends on Hamas to keep its home-front quiet.
  • Examining the challenge of Israel’s capability to act against threats in Sinai, but how such operations would be provocative. If Israeli leaders trust Egypt’s ability and will to counter Sinai threats, they would be unlikely to consider acting unilaterally. The United States can support intelligence sharing cooperation between these two wary allies while also training and equipping Egyptian security forces to meet the challenges it faces in Sinai.