Kataeb al-Forqan, one of the Islamist groups in Sinai, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 31 attack in the northern sector of the Suez Canal that raised concerns about the strategic waterway “Suez Canal”, the Islamic group released a 52-second video showing two men firing rocket-propelled grenades at the Cosco Asia, which Cairo said was not damaged. Three suspects have been arrested.
The group said in a Sept. 2 communique it carried out the attack because the canal “has become a safe passageway for the Crusader aircraft carriers to strike the Muslims and it is the artery of the commerce of the nations of unbelievers and tyranny.”
It warned: “We can target the international water passage morning and night, along its entire length … and we will return to target it whenever we wish.”
The Egyptian military has stepped up security along the whole waterway, which is a vital economic asset for the Arab world’s most populous state and generates around $5 billion a year, the country’s third biggest foreign currency earner excluding exports.
The narrow waterway that links the Mediterranean and Red Seas could also become a target for terrorists specifically seeking to disrupt energy supplies since some 800,000 barrels of northbound crude oil from the Persian Gulf and 1.4 million barrels of refined petroleum products pass through the canal daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The blockage or closure of the 120-mile canal, the world’s second most important maritime choke point for oil and liquefied natural gas bound for Europe and the United States, would have a potentially significant impact on global trade.
Analyst Scott Stewart stressed that “while the canal is long and difficult to totally secure, it would be very difficult to conduct an attack that would block the canal.”
Even so, the waterway’s eastern bank lies in the Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian army is currently engaged in a major operation against jihadist groups based in the vast region of desert and mountains.
That makes it vulnerable to attack by militants heavily armed with weapons smuggled from Libya and committed to avenging Morsi’s ouster.
The canal is also vital to the U.S. military for the transit of the navy’s aircraft carriers and other warships deploying in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea for operations against Afghanistan and to counter Iran in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Some 35-45 ships of the 5th Fleet pass through the canal annually.
The waterway, built in 1859-69 by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, has been closed down before.
The canal was closed for eight years after the 1967 Middle East war when Israel defeated Egypt and occupied Sinai up to the eastern bank of the canal for nearly a decade, forcing tankers to take the long route around Africa.