In an article that appeared in Al Watan on October 7, 2013, Osama Khalid posts an interview he conducted with Major General Sherif Ismail, State Security Advisor for Sinai during President Morsi’s rule. Major General Ismail’s position gave him access to highly confidential and classified information. At one point, Ismail had no other option but to resign his position after realizing that working under certain conditions was a betrayal to Egypt.
In my take on the interview conducted in Arabic, details and anecdotal content were omitted for brevity and linguistic clarity, but the translation maintains the integrity of the interview. Bracketed information is mine, there for clarification.
The general starts off by commenting on the war on terror led in Sinai today. He says, “The fallout in Sinai today is the upshot of the missteps taken by the previous regime. Today’s operations are corrective measures to fix these missteps.” He then goes on to explain the calculated steps President Morsi and the MB took in Sinai.
President Morsi, in an exclusive ruling for Sinai natives, released 580 prisoners who had served merely half their time. They were all sentenced in cases related to terrorism, arms trade, drugs, and insurgence. Although Ismail and the security apparatus voiced their concerns over Morsi’s intention to release these particular convicts, Morsi went ahead with the release.
Morsi allowed 50,000 Palestinians to apply for and receive the Egyptian nationality, but a more troubling route was Morsi's culling of the police force’s ability to retaliate against those crossing into Egypt. This, according to Ismail, gave Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups the freedom to maneuver in Sinai. “On a weekly basis, 350 Palestinians entered Sinai illegally via the tunnels. The president’s instructions were to let them return to Gaza without pursuing any legal action against them. That’s what we did regularly; we simply returned them to Gaza via the border crossings.”
He goes on to explain how grave the situation had become. Allowing the Palestinians to cross into Sinai “was a national security issue—a direct violation of Egyptian authority.” Furthermore, Hamas stored weapons in Sinai and conducted training exercises for Palestinians and Bedouins there. Ismail also recorded joined training exercises with the Islamist groups from Gaza, those who originally had deep rifts with Hamas such as Al Jihad Al Islami, Geish Al Islam, and Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis.”
Strangely, all these groups forgot about their differences and agreed on one principle: to create a terrorist and extremist state in Sinai. This is why Hamas permitted them to travel through, on one condition, that they don’t conduct any operations from within Gaza against Israel. Violence had stopped after Egypt brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas, allowing both to enjoy a long truce. And indeed all the groups began to train in Sinai turning it to a ticking bomb ready to explode at any given time.
We monitored three such camps in the areas of El Koraiya, El Moqattaa and El Gemeii. In Dahnia, from time to time, gunmen would participate in military parades and field training activities using heavy weapons, flexing their muscles, and establishing their statehood within Egypt; they were above the law. In Sheikh Zuweid, during such parades, group members would hold propaganda banners, sing inciting national songs, and shoot live ammunition in the air. Tunisians, Libyans, Sudanese, in addition to Palestinian participated in these camps.
However, the biggest issue is how the president and the presidency reacted when they were told about these aberrations. The presidency didn’t do much. In fact, according to Ismail, after the presidency received the information, it then disclosed it to the groups in Sinai so that they revised their approach and corrected their bearings to avoid similar pitfalls in the future. The presidency also refused conducting any operations against these groups.
When asked why the army or the police force did not react to such indiscretions, Ismail explained that the army did not act unless it was instructed to do so. The army did not work for itself neither did the police force. In fact, both forces had been subject to a plot to diminish their capabilities. For instance, the government had ignored requests for armaments, gear, and vehicles that were to be used to enforce security and pursue militants, and to protect the police units themselves. Restrained and unable to maneuver, the army and police force were incensed by the happenings.
Ismail also confirmed that Safwat Hegazy, the MB leader, who visited Sinai often, played a critical role in the ground operations and the pipelines bombings [supplying Jordan and Israel with gas]. Mohammed Al Zawahry, a Salafi Jihadia group leader and the brother of Aymen El Zawahry of Al Qaeda was captured in Arish only to be released the same day by specific order. Also Ramzy Mowafi, Bin Laden physician, was spotted in the same area.
Major General Sherif Ismail resigned in protest to two particular incidents. One was how the presidency first aborted the Eagle Operation. [The “Eagle Operation” is an Egyptian counterattack against the perpetrators who assassinated 16 Egyptian soldiers in Rafah close to the border with Gaza]. Then, Morsi sent an envoy to the area. “The fact that Magdi Salem, other Islamist group members, and ex-convicts were among the envoy enraged Ismail and the security apparatus in Sinai as a whole. The envoy was not qualified to negotiate in the name of Egypt and excluded the armed and police forces.”
The second incident that outraged Ismail was when Khairat El Shater, the MB leader, established a company, “Palestinian Egyptian” in Cairo, on Abbas El Akkad Street, to oversee 70 tunnels crossing from Gaza to Egyptian territory giving him monopoly control over illegal routes in and out of Gaza. In return he was to ensure that the remaining tunnels were shut down.
That is when General Major Sherif Ismail resigned. He realized that his reports to the presidency were being utilized against Egypt instead of protecting Egypt. He could not continue to work for a regime working against his country.
He goes on to explain why Morsi outed Field Marshal Tantawi and General Mourad Mouafy:
Major General Mouafy had provided a dossier on the Islamists terror operations in Sinai reporting on the increase in the number of terrorist cells in Sinai and the spread of weapons, training camps, and Islamist courts. The reports also warned that Sinai had become a goal for terrorists who aim to settle there from all the Arab countries. When Mouafy revealed this implicating information, he was discharged.
Ismail also affirms that after the MB reached power, it tried to paralyze the security apparatus in Egypt. They retired 600 major generals from the police force and shrunk the role of state security, refusing to provide it with the necessary arms.
That is in addition to the meeting that took place at the Four Seasons Hotel between Khairaat El Shater and the Iranian leader of the Iranian National Guards so as to create a similar militia group in Egypt that would answer to the Muslim Brotherhood only.
The campaign to smear the image of the Intelligence Services was also in full swing. "According to Wassat Party leader, Abou El Elaa Madi, Morsi claimed that Egyptian Intelligence Services had recruited 350,000 thugs to wreak havoc across Egypt."
The MB was working toward destroying the nation to build another nation that fit its dimensions, ideologies, and system.
Ismail also presents a very implicating point: that after Morsi escaped from Wadi El Natroun prison, he went to Al Arish [in Sinai] where he stayed with the ex vice-governor, a MB member, Adel Qatamesh, then he headed to Gaza via the tunnels. When the dust settled, he returned to Egypt.
And Morsi wasn’t alone on this trip to Gaza. Defendants in the Hezbollah Case and the Espionage Case escaped to Gaza with Morsi. “Morsi entered Gaza with Aymen Nofal [the leader of Alqassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas], who coordinated with the MB office in Arish; Bedouins and Salafis who had stormed the prisons and the police stations assisted them to cross into Gaza.”
Proof that implicates Hamas is available. While 18 members of Alqassam Brigades [Hamas’s armed wing] were executing an operation in Egypt, they were captured. Their capture is documented and verified.
According to Ismail, the solution to the many issues threatening Sinai lies in a threefold plan. The short-term one is happening now in Sinai: reestablishing sovereignty, restoring security—seizing weapons, capturing terrorists, and shutting down the tunnels, and controlling border traffic. The goal is to achieve total control. Two other solutions must be worked on: the economic and the human development.
My take: what Sherif Ismail is saying here construes treason. At the start of the January Revolution, Egyptians were totally oblivious of all the happenings in Sinai; however, slowly the truth began to unfold. But when a major general uncovers and confirms the critical cataclysms that were taking place in Sinai, the situation leaves no room for doubt or second-guessing. The events that took place in Sinai are incriminating.
Here is a link to the original interview conducted in Arabic: http://bit.ly/15RT5JS.