Egyptian aircraft struck targets near the border with Israel on Wednesday and
troops raided villages as a crackdown began on Islamists blamed for a deadly
attack on Egyptian border police.
Israel, urging Egypt to deal with a
growing threat in the peninsula, voiced approval of the security sweep, the
biggest military assault there since the Yom Kippur War 39 years ago. It was
also the first time since then that the Egyptians have flown sorties over
One Israeli government official said there was “ongoing
communication” between the two countries, “as stipulated in the [1979 Camp
David] peace treaty.”
The official said Israel did not say that the
sorties were in violation of the treaty, although the accords carefully and
exactly stipulate what types of forces Egypt can bring into Sinai, and where.
Under those accords, four security zones were established – three in Sinai, and
one in Israel along the international border – with limitations on military
forces and equipment within each zone.
“What we see in Egypt is a strong
fury, a determination of the regime and the army to take care of it and impose
order in Sinai because that is their responsibility,” Defense Ministry
Diplomatic and Security Bureau head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad said in an
Israel Radio interview on Wednesday.
IDF Chief of Staff
Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday’s cross-border terrorist attack served
to “remind us of the dangers existent in the instability of the Middle
Speaking at a ceremony honoring graduates of the army’s Command
and Staff College in Glilot, Gantz said the attack had been “thwarted by IDF
forces, swiftly and powerfully, with the aid of precise intelligence, as well as
a skilled and prepared operational force.” He said terrorist organizations would
continue their attempts to attack Israelis and that the IDF must remain alert
and prepared to handle such attacks.
The Egyptian air strikes around the
town of Sheikh Zuwaid, 10 km. from the Gaza Strip, followed clashes overnight
between armed men and security forces at several checkpoints in the northern
Terrorists killed 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday, in the
bloodiest attack on security forces in Sinai since the 1979 peace treaty. The
attackers stormed through the border into Israel, and IDF soldiers then killed
Jerusalem has said repeatedly that it wants Egypt to take more
aggressive action against terrorists using Sinai as a springboard for attacks on
Israel. Jerusalem is, however, walking a tightrope between wanting to see Cairo
take more action, and not wanting to re-open the treaty or to allow heavy
weaponry in Sinai that could later be used against Israel.
Israel granted the Egyptians permission to introduce an additional seven
battalions into Sinai; the Egyptians did not move that many into the peninsula.
Before Sunday’s attack, senior Israeli officials consistently said that the
problem was not that the Egyptians did not have enough troops or fire-power in
Sinai, but rather that they were not using them aggressively enough against the
The terrorists, with their strongholds in northern Sinai,
have stepped up their actions there since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last
While the Egyptian army promised retribution for Sunday’s attacks
and brought in 500 additional soldiers and police, there was no crackdown until
Tuesday night, after armed men opened fire on several checkpoints in El- Arish,
the security and administrative center for northern Sinai.
attacked checkpoints in Rafah, Egypt’s entry point into the Gaza
On Wednesday morning, witnesses in Sheikh Zuwaid said two Egyptian
Air Force planes flew over the area and that they heard explosions.
people near the town said they saw three cars bombed.
leadership said ground and air units had begun to restore stability in Sinai.
“The forces were able to execute the plan successfully.
The forces will
continue the plan and call on tribes and families of Sinai to cooperate in the
restoration of security,” it said.
Troops entered Al-Toumah village, 20
km. to the south, acting on information that terrorists were staying there, army
commanders in Sinai said. One commander said 20 were killed.
said he saw military helicopters chasing vehicles out of Al-Toumah and heard
rocket fire. The men in the cars fired back with machine guns, he said. An army
general in Al-Toumah said helicopters destroyed three vans the gunmen used in an
attempt to escape.
The military response focused on Sheikh Zuwaid, a
mud-brick settlement that relies heavily on profits from smuggling goods and
people through tunnels into Gaza.
Egypt said those responsible for
Sunday’s attack arrived via the tunnels from the Gaza Strip. Cairo began work to
seal them off on Tuesday.
Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a professor of
political science at Cairo University, said the situation would force Egyptian
President Mohamed Morsy’s administration to deepen contacts with Israel over
security – a step he had hoped to avoid – and restrict contacts with
The Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said there was
no evidence Gazans were involved in the latest violence.
security sweep revives memories of mass arrests after bombings of tourist areas
of South Sinai in 2003 and 2005. “People have been cooperative...
repetition of such acts would stoke their anger and you cannot predict their
reaction,” Salafi politician Mohsen Abu Hassan said from Sheikh
Morsy, meanwhile, appointed a new national intelligence chief and
sacked the governor of the North Sinai region.
He appointed Mohamed
Shehata as acting head of intelligence, sending Mourad Mwafi into retirement,
presidency spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters.
Ali said Morsy also asked
the head of Egypt’s armed forces, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to name a new
chief of military police, and named a new head of the presidential
It was unclear how far Morsy had taken the decisions in
consultation with the army, which has kept a tight grip on security policy since
the overthrow of Mubarak.
But he made the changes after holding a
national security meeting that brought together Tantawi as well as the prime
minister and interior minister.