The security cabinet on Thursday approved a request from Defense Minister Ehud
Barak to allow Egypt to deploy five attack helicopters in Sinai.
approval was necessary because under the Camp David Accords there are strict
limits on the type of weaponry that can be brought into the
The approval came a day after the Egyptian army used air power
against terrorists in the region.
Barak said Egypt was acting “to an
extent and with a determination that I cannot previously
“Whether this ends with [its] regained control of Sinai and
allows us not to worry as much as we have in the past few months, this I do not
know,” he told Israel Radio.
Meanwhile, gunmen fired shots at a police
station in El- Arish, the main administrative center of North Sinai, on
Thursday, as an Egyptian military offensive there entered its second
Hundreds of troops in armored cars drove out of the town to hunt
Islamists blamed for killing 16 Egyptian border guards
on Sunday, the biggest
spike in violence that has been growing steadily since last year’s overthrow of
president Hosni Mubarak.
The gunfire in El-Arish, the nerve center of the
government’s otherwise shaky control of the North Sinai region, showed how
difficult it will be for Egypt to impose order. It followed attacks on
checkpoints in the town on Wednesday.
Israel has welcomed Egypt’s
offensive while continuing to express worries about the deteriorating situation
in Sinai, home to anti-Israel gunmen, Beduin tribes angered by neglect by Cairo,
gun-runners, drug smugglers and al-Qaida sympathizers.
gunmen in El-Arish fled before police could respond, a security source said,
denying a report by state television that police had fought
Hundreds of troops and dozens of military vehicles had reached the
town, security sources said, part of an offensive not seen since the 1973 Yom
Dozens of armored vehicles, some equipped with machine guns,
could then be seen driving out of El- Arish toward the settlement of Sheikh
Zuwaid that military aircraft attacked on Wednesday. The troops saluted
passersby and flashed victory signs, or filmed their departure with video
Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsy on Wednesday fired the region’s
governor and country’s intelligence chief in response to public anger over
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, in
which the assailants seized two armored vehicles to storm the Kerem Shalom
border crossing with Israel. One made it through before the attackers were
killed by Israeli fire.
Israel says Islamists based in Sinai and
Palestinian hardliners in neighboring Gaza pose a growing threat to its border.
Palestinians use illegal tunnels to smuggle in guns and travel across to join
those on the Egyptian side.
Israel has also been wary of Morsy’s
ideological affinity with Hamas, the Islamist group ruling Gaza, fearing he
would take a softer position on Palestinian terrorism than Mubarak.
has brushed aside accusations that his politics would make it difficult for him
to take a strong stance against groups sworn to destroy Israel.
response to Sunday’s attack, which happened during the evening iftar meal that
breaks the daytime fast during Ramadan, is underpinned by public anger over the
deaths of the border guards.
In Egypt, there is wide respect for
rank-and-file soldiers who are often poorly paid conscripts working in isolated
places far from their families.
Comments suggesting outgoing intelligence
chief Mourad Mwafi had been aware of a threat but took no action fueled that
anger – despite suggestions he had been used as a scapegoat.
never imagined that a Muslim would kill his Muslim brother at iftar,” Egypt’s
state news agency MENA quoted Mwafi as telling his Turkish
Morsy’s powers, are in any case, hemmed in by the army,
which retains a strong role in setting security policy.
El-Arish, meanwhile, welcomed the security sweep, seeing it as an opportunity to
curb criminality among Beduin tribes, including those in Sheikh Zuwaid, who make
their living smuggling goods and people through a network of more than 1,000
tunnels into Gaza.
“We want the army to return to the border,” 45-
year-old shopkeeper Hassan Mohamed said. “The tunnels have destroyed the lives
of people in El-Arish. We want them to hit the Beduin hard.”