Attack in Sinai

A serious terrorist incident occured at the Sinai border crossing between Israel and Egypt on Sunday that that has major implications. The incident took place in several stages: First, a group of ca. 36 terrorists dressed in Beduin garb attacked the Egyptian army base at the Kerem Shalom border post killing16 Egyptian border guards and their commander. They then took several military vehicles and filled them with huge quantities of explosives. Second they rammed the border gate and drove these vehicles thru the border into Israel. Third, the IDF fortunately detected this incursion and the IAF hit the vehicles with missiles that caused them to explode. There were no survivors. The bodies of the terrorists were then returned to Egypt.

The major consequence of this attempt at a terrorist attack on Israel is to show the lack of control that Egypt exerts in its Sinai peninsula, that is awash with arms and terrorists groups. Hamas and other groups have been sending terrorists into Sinai to attack Israel from there, often with Beduin involvement, and Egypt has either been complicit or impotent to stop this. In these incidents several Israelis have been killed. Now with the deaths of 16 of its border guards and evident loss of control, Pres. Mursi of Egypt was forced to react. He visited the site of the incident and went to Al Arish and vowed that Egypt would take back control of Sinai. Israel has for some time been warning Egypt to take control of its territory or Israel might be forced to react. Now it seems Mursi, although he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been forced to respond.

Of course, within Egypt it was rumored that the whole incident was staged by Israel. But, not only on the face of it is this nonsense, but the authorities in Egypt, military and civil, know that this is not true. Even Pres. Mursi’s own party, the Muslim Brotherhood suggested that Israel was responsible. But, the killing of 16 Egyptian border guards is a serious act, that Israel certainly would not do since it wants to keep good relations with Egypt, and the fact that the terrorists did this shows how little concern they have for the Egyptian military. In the wake of the incident, Hamas assured its Egyptian friends that it was not responsible, even though rockets were fired from Gaza during the incident, and agreed to assist Egypt in identifying the attackers.

Egypt has now asked Israel to allow it to move more military forces into Sinai. But, Israel already gave its agreement to an increase in Egyptian forces beyond the limits allowed in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, when Mubarak wanted to take greater control of the Gaza-Egyptian border. But, these reinforcements were never activated. So now it is expected that the Egyptian army will reinforce its forces in Sinai in order to wrest control from the Beduin smugglers and the terrorist elements. So far the Egyptian military has taken several steps, they attacked terrorist elements in northern Sinai, closed the Rafah crossing to Gaza and started to close off the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border that are such a big earner and source of weapons for Hamas. Whether they will be successful in retaking control of Sinai remains to be seen.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.