IDF boosts security around Eilat amid threats

Navy increases Red Sea patrols for holiday season; intelligence reports say Palestinian terror groups planning additional attacks in area.

October 5, 2011 01:45
2 minute read.
The INS ‘Haifa’ crosses into the Suez Canal [file]

The INS ‘Haifa’ crosses into the Suez Canal 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

With thousands of tourists expected in Eilat over the holidays, the IDF has beefed up its forces around the city and along the southern part of the Egyptian border amid intelligence reports that Palestinian terror groups are planning additional attacks in the area.

Since the mid-August border attacks that killed eight Israelis, including an IDF soldier and an elite Border Policeman, the IDF has significantly boosted its presence along the frontier both on land and at sea.

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According to Cmdr. Zvika Shahar, who heads naval forces in the Red Sea, the navy has increased its patrols in international waters as part of an effort to boost Israel’s deterrence and make potential attackers aware of its presence.

“We patrol relevant places and go where we are allowed to sail according to international law,” Shahar said. “We want neighboring countries and others to see that we are there.”

While Shahar would not provide specifics, the Israel Navy has in recent years increased its patrols as far south as the Straits of Tiran and near the entrance to the Suez Canal. According to foreign reports, it has also operated off the coast of Sudan.

The navy’s concern is that terrorists will try to infiltrate the resort town of Eilat by sea, either via boat or by swimming. Another possibility is that they will ram an explosives-packed speedboat into a beachside target.

“We know the sea has been used in the past and we think it can be used in the future, and we are preparing for all kinds of scenarios,” Shahar said.

On the ground, the IDF’s 80th Division is in the process of reviewing current plans to seal off the border with Egypt. One example is to possibly turn the fence under construction into a smart electronic fence that sets off an alarm when touched.

Following the attacks in August, the division established a special brigade command, which is located in Eilat and currently manned by the Golani Brigade.

“We understood that the situation along the border had changed several months before the attack but the attack sped up the changes that we were in the process of implementing,” explained Lt.-Col. Tal Carmel, the division’s chief operations officer.

According to Carmel, despite the threats, the IDF has assessed that Eilat is safe and secure for tourists to visit over the upcoming holiday season.

“We are increasing our forces ahead of the holidays and we are encouraging people to visit the area and to hike in the nature reserves,” he said, adding that areas close to the border with Egypt would be off limits to civilians.

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