This recent Egyptian move drives the final nail in the coffin of the Sinai demilitarization regime enacted under the 1979 “peace agreement”, under the pretext of “fighting ISIS” – a rag-tag of a few thousand Bedouins that surely can be dealt with using much lighter measures than the huge Egyptian deployment currently in Sinai. By demonstrating ongoing [probably deliberate] incompetence in the fight against ISIS in Sinai the Egyptians have duped the Israelis to accept and support the militarization of the Peninsula. This could easily backfire in case of regime collapse in Egypt that will reinstall the Muslim Brotherhood or simply if the geopolitical conditions change in the future and compel any Egyptian regime to use this deployment for aggression of some sort against the Israeli heartland. The consequences remain to be seen.
The Egyptian Air Force is in the course of transforming the small air field in Rephidim, Sinai, into the largest air base in Egypt, this time with Israel’s concurrence. The base is being tailored to serve a wide variety of warplanes, attack helicopters and UAVs, with long runways, hangars and storage depots for bombs, missiles and fuel.
The Egyptian have built an enormous hangar 70x57meters for housing long-range Wing Loong UAVs purchased from China, which are 9 meters long with a 14-meter wing spread. The Wing Loongs are also being deployed at the Uthman Air base in the Western Desert just 68km from the Libyan border.
The huge base will also have a large civilian passenger terminal at its northeastern end to serve the large army contingents deployed in Sinai. Today the 2nd and 3rd Armies are waging war against terror in Sinai supported by Border Guard units which are undertaking special training in anti-terror warfare.
Rephidim is today hemmed in by packs of the ‘Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’ which has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and is battling Egypt under his direction. The base is accessible only by air or convoys escorted by armored vehicles.
But El-Sisi has big plans for defeating them, debkafile’s military sources report. Bir Gafgafa’s mission is to provide the Egyptian forces fighting in Sinai with a shield, as well as securing the Suez, one of the world’s most important waterways, against ISIS attack.
It will also serve as a hub for coordinating air operations over Sinai and the Libyan border. It is vitally important to prevent the jihadist networks based in ungoverned Libya and the lawless heartland of the Sinai Peninsula from reaching Egypt’s main cities.
The importance of this mission was demonstrated this week. On April 9, President El-Sisi reported that three gangs of terrorists had infiltrated the country from Libya and sent two suicide bombers to blow up two Coptic churches celebrating Palm Sunday, taking the lives of 45 people and injuring 150.