The crash of a Russian civilian Metrojet plane in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula killing all 224 people on board has become an international cause celebre. Although there has been much speculation about the reason for the crash, the Egyptian lead investigator in a press conference on Saturday stated that the plane did break-up in flight and also that a loud noise was heard on the black box recorder before the crash. However, he was not willing to go one step further and speculate that this event was caused by a bomb. One can understand the Egyptian reluctance to speculate, since the data has yet to be analyzed by a large international team that has been assembled in Cairo. Also, the consequences for Egypt are significant. But, a report today indicated that the chance of a bomb on board being the cause of the crash is now ca. 90%.
Not only will the outcome significantly affect the Egyptian tourist industry, but it will also affect relations with the other countries involved, notably Russia and Britain. The largest number of tourists at Sharm el Sheikh where the plane originated are Russians, with Britons second in number. The British Government has publicly speculated that the downing of the plane was indeed from a terrorist bomb that was stowed on board and caused the crash. The Russians have not speculated that a terrorist bomb was smuggled aboard their plane. If in fact one or more people working at the airport, or a passenger, was able to smuggle a bomb aboard in the baggage, then that person or persons could still be working at the airport. Even though the security has been enhanced at Sharm el Sheikh, the other governments are not prepared to trust that yet.
The British have stopped all flight to and from Egypt and this has left hundreds of British tourists stranded in Sharm el Sheikh. In fact, planes sent to Sharm to retrieve British passengers have been mysteriously turned around empty. The Russians have also discontinued all flights to Egypt, leaving up to 80,000 Russian tourists still in Egypt, although to date about one tenth of them have been repatriated. It is as if the Egyptians are unwilling to accept the responsibility for the crash until the team of investigators have published their findings. However, the latest reports indicate that the British and Russian planes that are flying empty to Egypt to pick up tourists will be allowed to land and take their passengers, but without their luggage, that will be sent separately.
The American role in all this has not been insignificant. US sources have indicated that there has been much security chatter regarding a major incident in the Sinai, and they have even intimated that specific conversations have been intercepted claiming that the IS affiliate in Sinai was responsible for smuggling a bomb aboard the plane. However, as is usual in such situations, no-one can verify such a claim of responsibility. In any case, the US has been tightening its security requirements in all airports in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. The IS have two reasons for blowing up a plane in Sinai, first because of the Russian involvement in the Syrian war against them and second their ongoing conflict with the Egyptian Government of Pres. Al-Sisi.
So far there has been no Israeli involvement in the incident, although it is reported that Israel gave the US and UK valuable intelligence on the incident. Yet, it is in a sense playing into Israel’s hands. Not only does it deal Egypt a further blow by devastating its tourist industry, but it also gives Russia greater reasons, if their plane was indeed downed by an IS bomb, to increase its military actions against IS in Syria. Pres. Putin could not accept such a blow without losing credibility.