The news deepens concerns that Palestinian terror groups are exploiting the increasingly anarchic situation in the Sinai Peninsula to move advanced weapons into the Gaza Strip. Egyptian forces have proven either unable or unwilling to dislodge increasingly entrenched jihadist forces, including Al Qaeda-linked groups, from the area. Terror campaigns against civilians and Egyptian officers are increasingly prevalent. During Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense last November, Hamas managed to fire more than 1,500 rockets into Israel, many smuggled in by way of tunnels from the Sinai.
The story also comes at a particularly delicate diplomatic time, as some are pressuring Israel to again pursue territorial withdrawals and concessions in the context of peace negotiations, this time in the West Bank. Analysts have outlined a series of disturbing parallels between the situation in Israel’s south, where Cairo’s loss of authority over the Sinai Peninsula has enabled weapons to flow to the Iran-backed Hamas faction, and a potential situation in the West Bank should Israel withdraw further.
The Jewish state withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and saw it seized by the Hamas by 2007. The Egyptian Arab Spring, which empowered a Muslim Brotherhood-linked government in Cairo, later boosted Hamas's prospects by putting a broadly sympathetic government on the Gaza border.
Israeli officials have expressed concerns that further withdrawals from the West Bank risk a similar scenario. Hamas has been increasingly open in pursuing control of the territory, just as dynamics in countries to Israel's east and northeast raise the specter of nearby regimes that would facilitate arms traffic into a Hamas-controlled West Bank in the way that the situation in the Sinai Peninsula has facilitated arms traffic into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
There are thousands of Al Qaeda-linked forces operating in Syria, and jihadist leaders have already committed to attacking Israel after Assad’s fall. Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood-driven instability in Jordan has created fears that events in Amman may follow the same path as the Egyptian Arab Spring, which has brought to power an Islamist government. Analysts have judged that the election may present the Muslim Brotherhood with an opportunity to foment popular instability around the polling, independent of straightforward electoral considerations.
Either scenario – a jihadist takeover of Syria or a Muslim Brotherhood government in Jordan – would put forces deeply hostile to Israel in close proximity to the West Bank. Israeli diplomats and analysts may be unable to discount those larger regional dynamics in evaluating the stakes involved in making concessions in the West Bank.