Tribute to fallen soldiers

Ahmed Eleiba , Tuesday 14 Mar 2023

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi spoke about the war on terrorism during the Martyr’s Day ceremony, reports Ahmed Eleiba

Tribute to fallen soldiers
Tribute to fallen soldiers


President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, in his capacity as supreme commander of the Armed Forces, attended a seminar held by the Armed Forces in the framework of Martyr’s Day ceremonies. The Egyptian Armed Forces had commemorated the ceremonies by paying tribute to the families of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the military’s counterterrorism operations and to civilians from the Sinai who provided support to the Armed Forces in the course of the campaign.

Tribute was also paid to one of the wounded survivors from the October 1973 War, thereby underscoring the linkage between the battles and other major events that took place in Sinai’s modern history.

Martyr’s Day, on 9 March, coincides with the commemoration of Lieutenant General Abdel-Moneim Riad, the first chief of staff of the Armed Forces during the War of Attrition with Israel (1967-1973) who died on Sinai front on 9 March 1969.

In Al-Sisi’s speech, which addressed the war on terrorism and the period after the military operation, he spoke of a conspiracy unleashed against Egypt through the proliferation of terrorist groups in Sinai. He recalled that when he was serving as deputy director of military intelligence under Major General Murad Mowafi, military intelligence was holding consultations with other security agencies, including the State Security apparatus under the Ministry of Interior which was headed at that time by Major General Hassan Abdel-Rahman. The assessment they reached was that a massive terrorist infrastructure and environment had been built up over the course of seven years prior to 2009. It included weapons and ammunition storehouses as well as extensive command and control structures. When social media platforms began to appear in Egypt, terrorist organisations in Sinai used them to communicate, promote themselves and post materials, which revealed their nature and aims.

The security protocol between Egypt and Israel restricted Egypt’s manoeuvrability in Sinai at the time. The focus was on border security, whereas the terrorist groups were operating in the interior, which necessitated a military/security response that could not be properly pursued under the terms of the protocol. Al-Sisi then said, “The conspiracy revealed itself in its full dimensions in 2011. The people were busy in [Tahrir] Square. The state’s presence there was being sabotaged and eliminated — government departments, directorates, everything. And they made a ‘province’ and an ‘Islamic court’ as they called it.”  

He continued, “On 28 January 2011, things had gone out of control. I told the late Field Marshal Tantawi, may God bless him, ‘there could be a big problem if the situation continues this way. They might stage attacks across the border against Israel and Israel would respond and we’d find ourselves in a conflict.’ So we made arrangements with Israel to let our forces into Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid in order to gain control over the situation there. In Israel, they understood the problem and they just asked us to inform them of the number of soldiers. We coordinated with them and we have continued to do so from that moment to the present day.”

The number of troops increased over the years to respond to the challenges there. In fact, the president may have sent an indirect message to Israel when he spoke of Israeli flexibility in responding to Egypt’s increased troop needs during the counterterrorist operations and the coordination over deployment.

Although Egypt has announced that the counterterrorist operation in Sinai has succeeded, military experts believe that the Egyptian military should still maintain a deployment equipped to preserve the progress achieved in Sinai, especially given the ongoing threat posed by terrorism in the region.

Judging from the display of the photos of soldiers who had fallen during the counterterrorist operations, it is clear that the number of casualties has fallen considerably. Most of the deaths and wounded during the past year were the result of dormant mines and IEDs planted on roadsides. Elite combat engineers have been working around the clock to detect, defuse, and clear mines. Some of the photos belonged to the soldiers lost in Galbana, an area in western Sinai where the last intensive military campaign of 2022 took place. A large number of the remaining first tier commanders of the Islamic State’s ‘Sinai Province’ were taken out during that campaign. Most of them were foreigners from other countries in the region. Also during that year, a military operation in Arish succeeded in eliminating the leader of the organisation. He was wearing an explosive belt, according to confidential sources.

Counterterrorism experts are wary of asserting that terrorism in Sinai has been eliminated 100 per cent. The Islamic State, as a regional organisation, is restructuring its command hierarchy in the Levant in order to make a comeback after the defeats it sustained in recent years. However, it is simultaneously important not to underestimate the major changes that have taken place in the Sinai environment thanks to the renewed presence of both the soft and hard power of the state which will ward off a resurgence of the organisation’s affiliates in the peninsula.

According to President Al-Sisi, the counterterrorist operations in Sinai cost an estimated LE90 billion, or an average of LE1 billion a month during its 90-month duration. In this context, the president announced plans to launch an exhibition, “War against Terrorism in Sinai” as part of Sinai Day celebrations in April. The exhibition will display the countless arms, ammunitions, communications devices and other types of war material that the Armed Forces had captured from terrorist lairs.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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