Security coordination with Egypt remains in good shape despite the political turmoil in Cairo, Israeli officers serving in the border area say.
According to the rules of engagement, if the Israel Defense Forces spots armed men approaching the border, the preference is to let the Egyptians take action.
“In most cases the Egyptians are doing good work,” said a liaison officer. Only if IDF troops see that an armed man has started to cross the border will they follow procedures to arrest him, the officer said.
“Our interest is for the people who sit on the other side of the border to be our partners. Both we and the Egyptians have an interest in that there be ... as little engagement as possible in the area,” the officer said, referring to exchanges of fire. He said the two sides also wanted there to be “as few terror cells as possible. We see the effect on all levels of catching infiltrators at the fence.”
On Wednesday, as the political turmoil in Egypt heightened, soldiers on the border feared that gunfire they heard might be an attack by Islamist militants against Egyptian troops. Then they thought people might be shooting in the air to celebrate the downfall of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
Eventually it was clear that Egyptian soldiers had been shooting to thwart a smuggling attempt from Egypt. According to the IDF Southern Command, there have been 39 smuggling attempts from Sinai into Israel this year, mainly of marijuana and hashish. Only 20 of these attempts have been thwarted.
In August 2011, gunmen crossing over the Egyptian border killed six Israeli civilians. Over the past two years, security efforts at this part of the frontier have broadened from stopping illegal migrants. They now include halting the development of a Global Jihad network in Sinai, stopping smuggling by armed men, continuing to stop the few migrants crossing where the border fence is incomplete, and addressing concerns over rocket fire at Eilat.
On Thursday, a few hours after an Israeli army patrol passed, Eilat residents reported explosions in the area. Twenty-four hours later, an extremist Islamist group known as Ansar Beit el-Maqdes said it had fired rockets, but no signs of the rockets were found in Eilat. An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery that had once been posted in the city was not redeployed.
“If we used to think that every band [firing rockets] was directed from Gaza, we now see more independent infrastructure,” an officer in the IDF’s 80th Division in charge of the area told Haaretz. Since 2010 there have been nine incidents of rocket fire at Eilat, but defenses around the city have improved, he said.
The officer cited new ways of gathering intelligence, the construction of the fence along the border and the deployment of a brigade of conscript soldiers in the Eilat area.
The number of migrants crossing the border has sharply declined − the IDF says only 33 crossed in June − and both sides have worked to stop smuggling. This has led to concerns that the men who guided the smugglers and the migrants, now deprived of a livelihood, will begin guiding Global Jihad operatives who have trained in Syria, the officer said.
According to the liaison officer, “In the end we understand that even after construction of the fence, Global Jihad will try to challenge us in Sinai.”
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