Southern Command had received intelligence warnings of a possible attack from Sinai last Friday, according to an IDF investigation of Sunday's cross-border attack near the border with Sinai.
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IDF forces were on heightened alert when the attack took place at about 7 P.M. on Sunday. Israel also shared some of the intelligence it received with the Egyptian army prior to the incident. But there is no evidence that Egypt responded by beefing up security along the border.
According to the report, an Egyptian armored personnel carrier spent 15 minutes and traveled two kilometers inside Israel before an air force missile took it out as it approached two military bases.
The missile strike was approved by GOC Southern Command Tal Russo.
At first, soldiers merely noticed unusual activity across the border. Only later did it
become clear that terrorists had exploited the Ramadan post-fast meal to take over an Egyptian border post located some two kilometers from Israel. The terrorists then raced toward Israel in two of the vehicles they captured.
Soldiers initially attributed no special importance to the vehicles approaching the
border, since Egyptian vehicles patrol there periodically. First came an APC, and behind it a van apparently loaded with half a ton of explosives. They reached an unused border crossing and sped up.
The APC succeeded in getting over the obstacle at the border, but the van apparently got stuck. A few minutes later, it exploded whether due to a technical mishap or to the terrorists' decision remains unknown.
The explosion occurred very near an IDF pillbox, but the post was empty due to the special deployment mandated by the heightened alert.
Meanwhile, the APC continued on into Israel and began heading south along Route 10, toward Eilat. The IDF's best guess is that the terrorists, who had planned to commit a mass-casualty suicide attack, simply got confused and headed south by mistake. A Bedouin reconnaissance unit stationed nearby began firing at the APC, but the terrorists did a U-turn and headed back toward the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
After about 50 meters, the APC was spotted by a paratroops unit. It also opened fire, but again failed to stop it.
"We saw the APC five meters from us, and after recognizing it as Egyptian, opened fire," the paratroops unit commander related yesterday during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "Our goal was to stop it before it reached the [nearby] towns."
Meanwhile, the IDF had alerted all communities in the area and ordered residents to stay in their houses with the doors locked.
The APC kept going, at a speed of about 70 kilometers per hour, and the IDF decided tosend tanks to block it from three sides. One tank, stationed near the town of Sufa, had orders to shell the APC if the blocking maneuver didn't work.
Only after the APC had traveled two kilometers inside Israel did a missile strike finally cripple it. The strike killed six armed terrorists, but others continued
shooting from inside the damaged vehicle. Two of them eventually fled the APC and continued shooting at the soldiers until they were killed by fire from a combined tankand infantry force.
Upon inspecting the bodies, the IDF discovered that most of the terrorists were wearing explosive belts and carried a vast quantity of arms and ammunition. The IDF believes the terrorists were associated with the global jihad movement and were probably from Sinai, but has no additional information about their identities.
Lt. Col. Wahid al-Huzayl, who led the Bedouin unit, said he was pleased with the outcome. "In the end, we succeeded in trapping the vehicle, liquidating the terrorists, and preventing them from attacking our forces or innocent civilians," he said.