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Israeli-Egyptian relations are on the brink of collapse on account of the murderous attack carried out by terrorists on the road to Eilat - because Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a reflex response, added Egypt to the list of those who demonstrated weakness in the war against terrorists.

The crisis in relations caused by the killing of five Egyptian soldiers on Thursday is not over. The incident has been etched deep into the consciousness of the Egyptian public and will continue to affect the relationship between the two states. It must be hoped that the folly that led to the Israeli response to Egypt will be replaced by a wisdom that can settle the situation.

But even as the diplomatic crisis and the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip grab the headlines, the Israel Defense Forces owes the Israeli public some clear, confirmed and reliable answers concerning the circumstances of the incident that precipitated them. Barak's banal, evasive answer, according to which "the IDF is capable of investigating itself," is unacceptable. Experience teaches that, by nature, military investigations tend to cover up uncomfortable truths. In this the IDF is no different from any other organization that investigates itself and fears that its reputation will suffer, or that misconduct in its ranks will be exposed.

There are a number of things that Israelis do not understand, for instance why the security fence along the road to Eilat was not completed long ago. Was there intelligence about a specific terror threat, and, if so, did the IDF take the proper precautions? What exactly happened on the battlefield that led the Israeli forces to enter Egyptian territory, and why were the Egyptian soldiers shot? Were there standing orders permitting the IDF to enter Sinai, and did Israel view the peninsula as a free-fire zone?

These questions concern not only the army's conduct during the incident, but also to the procedures and orders, supervisory methods and operational policy of the IDF along the border. All of these issues require external, independent investigation to determine the circumstances of the incident and the individuals responsible for the chain of events, and to help restore public trust in the military establishment. Such an investigation would also prove to the people of both Israel and Egypt the seriousness with which Israel takes the incident.