Report: Three Egyptians Took Part in Terrorist Attacks on Southern Israel

According to report the three were members of extremist Islamic group, one of whom escaped from Egyptian prison during revolution against Hosni Mubarak.

At least three of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack on the road to Eilat last Thursday were Egyptian citizens, according to a report in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Yaoum.

The report, based on a probe carried out by the Egyptian security forces, says that the three were members of an extremist Islamic group. One of them had escaped from an Egyptian prison during the revolution against Hosni Mubarak.

Moti Milrod

In addition to the three, five Egyptian policemen and soldiers were also killed in the various firefights.

Haaretz has learned that 12 terrorists, in four groups, carried out the attack. The groups were dispersed over an area 12 kilometers long. At least some of the attackers wore brown uniforms, similar to those used by the Egyptian Army.

The terrorists also waved white handkerchiefs to fool Israeli motorists, pretending to come in peace. They opened fire at an Israel Defense Forces helicopter in a bid to shoot it down.

The investigation by the Egyptians has shown that Israeli troops entered into the Sinai Peninusla chasing after the terrorists. During the pursuit, fire was exchanged with Egyptian police. Moreover, an Israeli helicopter, according to the Egyptian probe, fired two rockets at the terrorists and fired machine guns at Egyptian policemen.

The gunship fire resulted in the death of an Egyptian officer, Ahmed Jalal, along with two policemen. In a later incident, another two Egyptian soldiers were killed. An Egyptian security vehicle making its way to the area of the incident was also attacked, but it remains unclear who was responsible.

Earlier in the week, Egypt's Supreme Military Council, the junta running the country, met to discuss the killing of the five Egyptian security officers. Tuesday, Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, said that "at no point was there any intention on our part to recall our ambassador to Tel Aviv." He added that the presence of Egypt's ambassador in Israel serves national interests.

The Egyptian foreign minister's statements suggest a wish to return to normalcy in relations with Israel, and the demand for an apology has been sidelined for the time being. In Cairo the expression of sympathy by Defense Minister Ehud Barak was perceived as a step in the right direction.

Despite protests in Cairo, it is clear there is an awareness in Egypt of the possibility that some soldiers serving near the area of the attack had been involved in the shooting at Israelis.

Egyptian intelligence is also aware of cooperation between members of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip with Islamist activists operating in the Sinai desert.

A senior Egyptian figure told Haaretz that Israel should be sensitive to Egyptian public opinion in view of the changes that his country has undergone recently, and appreciate that the killing of Egyptian soldiers and Palestinians touches a sensitive nerve.

As the Sinai Peninsula has become a refuge for extremist organizations, it is difficult to collect intelligence about goings on there. At the Southern Command, great efforts are being made to achieve a permanent barrier, and the GOC, Major General Tal Russo, is planning to have it ready before the end of 2012, six months ahead of the originally planned date.

Meanwhile, Russo was severely criticized for opening up Route 12 to motorists. Russo admitted that he had made a mistake in light of the intelligence warnings that had been available.

Ehud Barak opted to reprimand the commander in public, in an interview to Ma'ariv - yet another example of showing insight retroactively.

Haaretz has learned it is doubtful whether Russo or any commander would have behaved differently given the available information. The intelligence warning had been an old one, and even though it was still pending, it had not become any stronger during the days before the attack.

The IDF decided, however, to step up preparedness in certain border areas, including the area where the attack took place.

The Shin Bet security service in its assessments thought any attack would come at night, and would focus on attempting to kidnap a soldier and carry him into Egyptian territory.

Moreover, intelligence assessments did not expect the attack to take place near an Egyptian police position, as it did. Also, the attack had been expected closer to the weekend.

In terms of possible targets, the intelligence assessments held that the attackers would first aim to hit IDF patrols. One scenario posed an attack during the day, but the target was expected to be the hundreds of workers building the border fence, and not civilian vehicles.

The attack ultimately proved contrary to the most likely scenarios.

At the point where the attack occurred, the IDF had actually amassed forces. North of the area a Golani force had been deployed, and there were additional forces to the south.

The incident involving the Egyptians occurred later in the afternoon, while the chief of staff and the defense minister held a press conference north of Eilat. An IDF force rushed to an area where there had been more shooting. Egyptian soldiers were seen holding three men at gunpoint.

When the Israeli officers asked for the captives to be handed over, an Egyptian officer claimed that they were Egyptian soldiers. At some point the troops came under fire, and a sniper killed the anti-terrorist police officer Pascal Avrahami.

IDF and Egyptian soldiers were facing each other along the border and they came under fire from one of the groups of terrorists. They were neutralized by the soldiers. The incident ended about 6 P.M.

While Egyptian security conducted a search in the Sinai Peninsula, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device.

Egyptian security forces claimed to have killed two terrorists. The IDF and special police forces claimed eight terrorists killed. Apparently, two others were not caught.

The incident, in spite of the planning by the terrorists and the timing, could have had much worst results. The army's presence in the area and the aggressive response by the anti-terrorist police unit and the soldiers proved effective.