In the past few days, two columnists for the Egyptian daily Al-Watan have called for Egypt to launch a preemptive offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, warning that ISIS's hold in Libya was likely to grow due to the military pressures on the organization in Syria and Iraq. They wrote that in light of the slow pace of the Libyan national unity talks, and European inaction, Egypt ought to take the initiative, and not wait until ISIS starts attacking on Egyptian soil.
It should be noted that the Fatwa Monitoring Observatory - a newly established branch of the Dar Al-Ifta', Egypt's supreme fatwa-issuing body, which is tasked with countering religious extremism - has recently issued a report warning of the influx of foreign ISIS fighters to the city of Sirte in Libya. The report likewise warned of ISIS expansion in Libya and its use as a base for attacks on neighboring countries.
The following are excerpts from the columns in Al-Watan:
An ISIS military parade in Sirte, Libya.
Muhammad Mukarram Ahmad: "ISIS, In An Advance Move, Has Already Turned Libya Into A Support Base From Which To Launch Its Terrorist Crimes"
In his December 9, 2015 column, Muhammad Mukarram Ahmad wrote: "Despite the increasing pressures in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, in an advance move, has already turned Libya into a support base from which to launch its terrorist crimes against Egypt in particular, and against the security of the North African countries - Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
"[Libya has also become] a center for the planning of joint operations with Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali, and a strategic launching point that allows it to threaten the security of the Mediterranean and of southern Europe... [It is also] a bridge above the Mediterranean that allows its fighters to move between the previous battlefield in Iraq and Syria and its backyard Libya... In addition, ISIS now believes that Libya is the best alternative seat for the caliphate of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi if the military pressures on Raqqa in Syria were to intensify and it became necessary to transfer the Caliph to a new and more secure capital.
"ISIS in Libya has [both] high-level logistic capabilities and an infrastructure that is becoming stronger and broader, allowing it to carry out its Libyan plan now that it has achieved full control over Sirte... and now that ISIS has strengthened its presence in Derna, 70 miles from the Egyptian border. At present it is trying to take control of the strategic city of Ajdabiya, which is on the central Libyan coast and connects eastern and western Libya. It is close to the most important and richest Libyan oilfields, and likewise Ajdabiya is closest and allows best access to ports for exporting Libyan oil...
"In addition to these logistic capabilities, ISIS controls dozens of camps, and has turned them into training centers for its fighters. It also controls, in the far west, the city of Sabrata, some 60 miles from the Tunisian border; it was from there that the attacks on Sousse [in Tunisia] were launched, in which it killed 48 tourists, 30 of them British. [Sabrata] was also the launching point for the attack on the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital, and the latest attack, against a bus carrying officers and soldiers of the Tunisian presidential guard, killing 12. But Sirte remains the biggest prize in ISIS's possession - unless, God forbid, it succeeds in conquering Ajdabiya...
"The Europeans Have Not Lifted A Finger, Apart From Some Limited Aerial Bombardments... That Had Little Effect"
"Despite the recent U.N. report drawing the attention of the international community to the danger and to ISIS's plans to conquer Libya, as well as to the increasing possibility that its fighters and leaders will depart Iraq and Syria for Libya under the pressure of the military actions there... and [despite] the warning bells sounded by Egypt from time to time to draw the attention of the international community, and especially the European countries, to the danger of what is happening in Libya... the European countries are extremely cool vis-├á-vis the Libyan crisis. This is even though it directly threatens the security of the Mediterranean and of Europe...
"The Europeans have not lifted a finger, apart from some limited aerial bombardments carried out by French and American planes on select targets that had little effect on ISIS's military abilities. [They have done so little] because they claim that priority has to be given to the efforts of the U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon to forge a national unity government that would reunite Libya in confrontation with ISIS... What is most distressing is the incomprehensible spirit of hostility that the West and the Americans harbor for the efforts of General Haftar to reassemble the remnants of the Libyan army and to reequip them for a war against the terrorist groups, and [the West's] refusal to arm the Haftar-led army, despite the fact that it is the only institution in the country capable of the ground operations [needed] to lay siege to ISIS positions and liquidate them.
"So far, it is unclear whether the efforts of U.N. envoy Bernardino [Leon] will succeed, and whether there will arise in Libya a strong national unity government in which all the sparring sides agree to join forces in a war on ISIS. What is clear - as clear as the sun rising in the East - is ISIS's continuation of its efforts to transform Libya into a terror base that threatens first and foremost Egyptian security, but also the North African countries and the security of the Mediterranean and of Europe.
"I Don't Think Egypt Will Continue To Stand For The Others' Dawdling Until Its Security Is Threatened... Egypt's Only Option Is Adopting A New Strategy"
"I don't think that Egypt will continue to stand for the others' dawdling until its security is threatened from the east and from the west, with ISIS laying siege to it in a pincer [action from two strongholds]: Sinai, where [Egypt's] Operation Martyr's Right continues to hunt down the remnants of Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis [i.e. the Sinai Province of the Islamic State]... and Libya, should it become, God forbid, a principal base for ISIS's crimes against Egypt, just as [ISIS crimes] are committed [from it] against Tunisia and Algeria. [This scenario is likely] especially if ISIS succeeds in conquering Ajdabiya and takes control of Libya's oil resources...
"Egypt's only option is adopting a new strategy that does not involve waiting behind its defensive lines until ISIS's aggression begins. Rather, it must... through strategic planning, uproot the ISIS danger in its cradle - whether unilaterally, through a joint Arab effort with Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, or through an Arab-Western alliance in which the southern European countries - Italy, France, Spain, and Greece - would take part. Whatever the proposed options, the plain truth that cannot be concealed or disputed is that Egypt must not be besieged by ISIS in a pincer [action from Sinai in the east and Libya in the west."
'Adil Nu'man: "Preemptive Attack... At Their Home Bases Of Derna And Sirte Is The Best Means Of Defense"
'Adil Nu'man wrote in his December 10, 2015 column: "... Reports confirm that ISIS has taken control of the Libyan city Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, west of Benghazi, the capital of the Libyan Provisional Government.
"Earlier, it took control of the Libyan coastal city of Derna, likewise on the Mediterranean. Derna, which is close to the Egyptian border, is the gateway of danger to Egypt, and [offers] open arms and open coasts to all the ISIS operatives fleeing Iraq and Syria. Reports confirm that the pressure of the Russian bear, and the Russian and French aerial bombardments and damaging raids on ISIS in Syria, have led to ISIS operatives' mass exodus to Sirte and Derna...
"The organization is trying to establish a 'Western Desert' province in Egypt, as a strong, central support location that would connect ISIS operatives in the east and in the west... The terrorist organization is trying to have two provinces inside Egypt, Bayt Al-Maqdis in Sinai and the ISIS operatives in the western region, in order to cement the pillars of its so-called Caliphate... It is making efforts to enter western Egypt on the road through the area of the oases - because it is paved, it is far from the Great Sand Sea, and, they claim, it is safe [to travel].
"Beware lest you wait until they have arranged their ranks, equipped their armies with war materiel, or united [their factions]. Preemptive attack against them at their home bases of Derna and Sirte is the best means of defense. That is the first thing.
"As for the second, beware lest you wait for them at [our] country's borders: There are traitors in our ranks and among us who would sell the homeland for the delusion of their so-called Caliphate, and would join them and fight in their ranks...
"Third: Beware not to attribute importance to world [opinion] in this matter. Not long ago, America went out to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq in defense of its national security, and today France is going out to wage war on ISIS in Syria and Libya. [Likewise], it is our obligation to fight the ISIS operatives in Libya to defend our lives and our security.
"Fourth: There must be no leniency with those who break ranks, or who abet, encourage, support, or pave the way for terrorism...
"Oh leaders [of Egypt], do not take this matter lightly; oh people [of Egypt], pay heed to the danger advancing from the west, [which is] worse and more violent than the one advancing from the east. The only solution [open] before us is to end it in its cradle, before the danger grows out of control..."