Sinai attack proves Islamist terrorists are targeting Egyptians as well as Israelis
How will the attack affect the ties between Egypt and Israel, in light of the already weak relations with the new Egyptian government?
Sunday night's attack of the Egyptian military post and cross-border incursion was the largest attack carried out in Sinai by Global Jihad operatives against both an Egyptian target and an Israeli target.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called for a meeting of the Supreme Military Council to discuss steps to be taken, following the killing of the Egyptian soldiers.
The attack took place while the Egyptians were breaking the daily Ramadan fast. Two armed groups whose members are identified with Al-Qaida raided the post, a few kilometers from Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, in two off-road vehicles.
They fired RPG rockets and machine guns at the position, one of the Egyptian army's key posts on the border. There were an estimated 20 soldiers at the post at the time of the attack. It is believed the attackers killed approximately 15 soldiers and abducted the others.
On Sunday morning an Israeli aircraft fired on a motorcycle carrying two activists from one of the terror groups active in Gaza. A 22-year-old member of the extremist Salafi sect, Eyad Nadi Okel, was killed in the attack. Another man, Ahmed Sayid Ismayil, identified with Global Jihad, was injured.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the attack had taken place and said Ismayil had been involved in the attack on the Israel-Egypt border about six weeks ago, which killed an Israeli Defense Ministry contractor, Saeed Fashafshe, 35, from Haifa.
According to the IDF, Okel and Ismayil were planning to carry out an attack on the Israel-Egypt border, together with other Global Jihad operatives in the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
Despite the fact that the attack on the motorcycle and the attack in Sinai were close in terms of time, and that Global Jihad operatives were involved in both, sources in the IDF denied any connection between the two incidents.
Only a few days ago, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office issued a warning that terrorists were planning to kidnap Israelis traveling in Sinai. But Sunday's attack illustrates the motivation of these Jihadist terror groups to strike not only Israelis, but also Egyptian security forces.
In recent months there have been almost daily incidents between the Egyptian army and armed members of Jihadist groups, and there have been repeated reports of Egyptian soldiers shot by these extremists, who belong to cells identified with Al-Qaida coming from all over the Middle East.
The two terrorists responsible for the attack that killed Fashafshe came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There are reportedly Al-Qaida forces in Sinai from Yemen, Iraq, Syria and other Arab and Muslim countries. These groups are supported by the local Bedouin and it cannot be ruled out that Sinai Bedouin took part in planning and executing Sunday's attack. Meanwhile, various other terror groups in the Gaza Strip are assisting them and smuggling arms and goods into the Strip.
About 1,000 soldiers belonging to the Egyptian Border Police are currently stationed in Sinai, as are other Egyptian soldiers, but their focus is on guarding the strip of coast and the roads leading to the main northern Sinai cities of El Arish and Rafah. They do not belong to elite units and are not trained to face terrorists. Their posts are poorly protected and they face Sinai, rather than Israel, out of fear of attack from Bedouin gangs or Islamicists. In many ways the neglect of the Egyptian government, which began back in the time of Mubarak, has helped turn Sinai into a no-man's land controlled by Global Jihad groups and armed Bedouin.
Sunday's attack was unusual in its daring. It is clear that the group that carried it out wanted first and foremost to cause mass casualties among Egyptian soldiers, and apparently, to deter soldiers from serving in the area. Striking Israel was apparently a secondary goal.
The challenge facing Israeli and Egyptian security forces is that such attacks may continue because of the security situation in Sinai, and the almost complete lack of real obstacles.
The presence of the Egyptian army is meager, and perhaps because of the fear that the Egyptian army will be accused of collaborating with Israel, its commanders are not eager to take aggressive action against Global Jihad groups in Sinai.
The question that remains after Sunday night's attack is how ties between Egypt and Israel will be affected by the incident, in light of the already weak relations with the new Egyptian government.
Morsi recently said he did not want there to be an impression of cooperation with Israel; nor did he want to strengthen security ties, due to the fear that Egyptian public opinion would be against both those moves.
Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, may have no choice but to join forces with the Egyptian military leadership, in order to take on the terror groups in Sinai, which have become a real threat to Egypt.
It is unclear how the Egyptian army will respond, and whether it will continue to avoid engagement with the terrorists. But it seems that Egyptian public opinion will demand action following the attack in Sinai.
It also remains to be seen how the attack will impact the security situation between Gaza and Israel. For now, it does not seem that Hamas or any other group in the Strip is interested in an escalation with Israel.
Sunday's incident ended successfully as far as Israel was concerned, without injuries or the terrorists crossing the border. Yet it is a painful reminder of the complicated situation Israel has on its southern border, as well as its northern border, while Israeli public opinion is preoccupied with Iran.
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