Some six months after a terrorist attack near Israel’s southern border with Egypt, the Israel Defense Forces plan to re-open Route 12 to the public, with a number of measures taken to boost security.
Eight Israelis and six Egyptian soldiers were killed in a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli targets on August 18 2011, approximately 20 kilometers north of the southern city of Eilat, close to the border with Egypt.
Travel on Route 12 will change, with security measures significantly increased. Brigadier General Nadav Padan of the IDF’s 80th Division told reporters on Thursday that “there is an increase in the terror threat along the Western border. There are more than a few attempts to infiltrate and damage the area.”
The day set for opening the road is Sunday February 26, but a final decision will only be taken, after a security assessment this Saturday afternoon to evaluate how safe the area is. If and when it opens, travelers will be able to access the road initially from 08:00 to 17:00, and the IDF will allow nighttime travel at a later date.
New security measures include a fence erected along 95 kilometers of the border between Israel and Egypt as part of the “hourglass” program. The entire 240 kilometers of the remainder of the fence are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The steel fence is five meters high in most places, and reaches as high as seven meters others. It is surrounded by protective barriers, and track for army vehicles runs alongside the fence. A cover to protect vehicles in case of gunfire has been erected next to the border itself.
In case of high alert in the area, IDF soldiers will man stations spread along the length of the border, including a protected area for fighters, and ramps for IDF armored vehicles to fire from.
The IDF is changing the way its forces operate in the area and changing the way it defines the border. Today, it does not define the border with Egypt as a peaceful one, but as “a military zone that borders countries that have a peace agreement between them.”
Senior IDF officers are still in contact with their counterparts in Egypt – Brigadier-General Padan met with the Egyptian general who is responsible for southern Sinai two weeks ago, but the IDF is aware of links between Egyptian police and terror cells. The IDF is still unsure what the extent of these links is, and whether or not the links are based on economic or ideological grounds.
“We are aware of Hamas exploiting the situation in the Sinai to smuggle in terror cells, out of a cynical exploitation of links with the Egyptian army,” said Padan, adding, “It is Hamas that is responsible for the terrorism coming out of the Gaza Strip, including terrorism that passes through the Sinai.”
According to IDF estimates, Eilat and Route 12, are currently the most dangerous places in the area. Some of the greatest dangers include kidnapping of soldiers or Israeli citizens, terrorist attacks, and sniper or anti-tank unit fire. The IDF says that the area has become more dangerous because instability in the Egyptian government has led to more terrorism in the Sinai, which now has no-go areas where “an Egyptian police officer does not come out alive.”
Additional changes to boost security include the establishment of a brigade for the city of Eilat, the addition of dozens of observation towers. Some IDF bases have been moved away from the border into Israeli territory.
On Tuesday, an explosive device was found in a bag on the Israel-Egypt border. A person was seen throwing the bag and leaving the scene during nighttime hours. When the search was carried out in the morning, it turned out that the bag contained a powerful device, according to the IDF. The IDF considered the incident as an attempted attack.
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