Israel Warns: Egyptian Border May Be Closed if ISIS Threat to Sinai Tourists Increases

A travel warning in place for Sinai is already at the highest level, but new warnings have Israel considered a temporary closure of the border.

Israelis cross the border into Sinai.
Mori Chen

The border crossing between Israel and Egypt may be closed, said Israel's counterterrorism chief on Monday, if any concrete threats against Israeli tourists emerge from acute warnings of an imminent attack in the area.

Though a current travel advisory is already at the highest possible threat level, the possibility of closing the border seemed to point to increased concerns for the safety of Israeli tourists in the Sinai.

Talking with reporters on Monday morning, Eitan Ben David said the travel advisory was revised because of new, but seemingly non-specific warnings of an attack being planned against tourists, including Israelis, in Sinai. The counterterrorism division assesses that there are hundreds of Israelis on the Sinai beaches right now, and as Passover nears, that could reach thousands.

During the high holy days, between 17,000 to 20,000 Israelis visited the Sinai, Ben David said.

The change in wording of the travel advisory is due to activity by ISIS in the Sinai, he explained. The Israelis are keenly worried, for instance, by ISIS putting up roadblocks in early March, in central Sinai, hoping to net Egyptian soldiers and tourists. 

Following news reports accusing Israel of launching attacks in the Sinai, the motivation of militants there to target Israelis in revenge is all the greater, Ben David said. And they are very worried about Israelis in the Sinai. "We don't want to cry wolf, wolf, we really believe that the threat is serious," he said. 

Closing down the border would be an unusual move, but if concrete intelligence arrives, it might be done, Ben David said. "If we think we have information of some type consequent to which we should shut the border for some hours or days, that option exists," he said, pointing out that actually it always exists.

Asked about possible revenge actions by the Hamas, based on reports that Israel assassinated Mazen Fuqaha (a prominent member of Hamas’ military wing in the northern West Bank, which took part of suicide attacks in which hundreds of Israelis were killed during the second intifada, between 2000 to 2005), Ben David said there are no warnings or concrete information about Hamas mounting terror attacks overseas.