Like a number of other incidents over the past few months, the details of Friday's reported incident near the Rafah border crossing in the Sinai Peninsula are still vague. This is probably more comfortable for some of those involved. That is the nature of the many incidents that have taken place in the shadow of the turbulence in the Arab world, which can be understood as a long line of operations, in the inter-war years, which aim to fight arms smuggling, and sometimes also to foil terror threats.
- Egyptian officials: Israeli drone strikes Sinai rocket-launching site, kills five
- Al-Qaida-linked group says it was target of Israeli drone strike
- Funeral held for militants reportedly slain in Israeli drone strike in Sinai
- Days after alleged Israeli drone strike, Egypt army says kills 12 militants in Sinai
- Sinai is the Egyptian military's Achilles' heel
- Post-Morsi Egypt curbs Palestinian visits from Gaza
- Iron Dome battery successfully intercepts rocket targeting Eilat
- Defense Minister: Sinai militants will strike again, but Iron Dome will keep south Israel safe
- Blast heard in Sderot near Israel's Gaza border
- Tourist-friendly defenses go up around Eilat after rocket attack
- Jewish Agency airlifts 17 Yemeni Jews to Israel in covert operation
- U.S., Iraq boost cooperation on Syria spillover
- American Al-Qaida militant urges attack on Western targets
The Arab and international media usually attribute these kinds of activities to Israel, which doesn't officially respond to the claims. This vagueness around the reports serves two purposes: It creates a certain blur around the operation and those behind it in the eyes of adversaries, and it also enables opponents to maintain a healthy "space of denial," thus mitigating any insult or breach of sovereignty, and curbing the danger of escalation.
In recent years, Israel has been blamed for air and sea strikes in Sudan and Syria. Last year, there was also an explosion in Sinai in which a motorcyclist - a global jihad operative – was killed. Arab media said the incident bore Israel's fingerprints. It looks like the current unrest in the Arab world allows for more of these operations, that barely carry a signature - that is, without anyone being held to account publically and with little media attention.
According to various Arab media reports on Friday evening, five or six global jihad militants where killed by an Israeli drone strike on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Some Arab sources said that Egypt was behind the attack, even though as far as we know Egypt does not use attack drones, only surveillance drones.
If Israel was behind the attack, this would be the first such strike since Israel signed the peace accord with Egypt in 1979. If we take into account foreign media reports, the alleged strike was either carried out in cooperation with the new leadership in Cairo (something both sides will, of course, deny) or the threat of impending rocket strikes was seen as so serious, that it justified taking a risk that might harm Israel's sensitive relationship with Egypt.
In any case, the incident illustrates just how much importance countries in the region today attribute to the terror threat from global jihad groups, the loose system of extremist factions that are influenced by Al-Qaida. The Daily Beast website published the details of the alert that led to the closure of U.S. embassies in the Mideast and North Africa earlier this week. The website claimed that the alert was prompted by a conference call between Ayman al-Zawahri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as head of Al-Qaida, and heads of al-Qaida affiliates throughout the region, including the head of the Sinai Peninsula.
If this report is indeed true, it shows that militants in Sinai have enough clout for Al-Qaida to take them seriously – and it shows they have the kind of operational capability that justifies their elevated status.
Egyptian intelligence services say the army is fighting against several thousand extremists in the Sinai Peninsula. And in the southern part of the Israeli border with Syria, there are some 10,000 Islamic militants, outgoing Golan division commander Brig. Gen. Tamir Heyman recently told Haaretz. This week, a CIA official told the Wall Street Journal that Syria has become the primary regional center of Al-Qaida, and members of the organization from Pakistan and Iraq are heading there to join in the fight against President Bashar Assad.
The latest sequence of events in Sinai is a sign that a similar danger is crystallizing on Israel's western border. Just this week, the U.S. issued a warning regarding the Sinai, on Thursday Eilat airport was closed due to fears of rocket attack from the peninsula, and now a terror cell has been reportedly destroyed as it was trying to attack Israel from the Egyptian side of Rafah.
Now it is becoming clearer that global jihad groups are concentrated along Israel's most important borders – and it looks like they are here to stay. Both in military and intelligence terms, preparations for dealing with the dangers will need to be carried out accordingly.