It was not a day for a Schlafstunde. Soon after lunch on Thursday, Varda called from the other room that I should turn on the radio. That generally means something unpleasant. This was the onset of a terror attack. As is typical in such events, early reports were more confused than helpful. Only three hours later did it become clear that it began with an ambush against a private car and a bus on the highway north of Eilat, alongside the border with Egypt, and mortar attacks against the police and soldiers who rushed to the scene. During those hours, there were additional reports, that proved unfounded, of attacks on the northern border, and claims of Israelis kidnapped from the southern region.
Also typical were Interviews with people who were on the bus. Broadcasters may think they are adding color to a dramatic story, but what we hear are excited people who may not know how to express themselves in the best of times, now caught up in the emotions of a horrible experience.
Egyptian officials were quick to assert that the attackers did not come from their country, even though it occurred on a road along the border, in a stretch of desert as isolated as possible in a small country, with no fence on the border. Thanks to the unsettled nature of the Egyptian regime, the Sinai is even more than usual an ungoverned expanse. Beduin smugglers and other troublemakers, including various groups out of Gaza, have virtually free run of the area.
While Egyptian officials were denying any action from their part of the Sinai, Egyptian troops killed two of the terrorists on their side of the border.
Hamas claimed no responsibility, but dispersed its personnel in anticipation of Israeli reprisals.
The activity that began during the time of my usual afternoon nap was still in process as bedtime approached. And while the remnants of the group were evading and occasionally engaging IDF pursuers, a targeted killing eliminated the commander of the military wing of the Islamic group thought to have been responsible, along with several of his lieutenants.
The day''s toll was six Israeli civilians killed, as well as a soldier and a member of the anti-terrorist police unit, and 30 wounded. One terrorist killed himself by detonating his suicide belt. Others died at the hands of Israeli or Egyptians soldiers.
Rockets from Gaza began landing in southern Israel before I went to bed. I woke to reports about additional rockets, news that the Gaza leadership is urging attacks with all means possible, responses of the Israel Air Force, and portrayals of the soldier and police officer killed. Also killed were a bus driver and members of a family on their way to Eilat.
We are hearing instructions about how residents of southern town should react when hearing sirens warning of a missile attack. There has been a fire fight in the Sinai between Egyptian troops and Beduin or Palestinian fighters.
This has reached the proportion where it might be given the name of an operation (like Cast Lead in Gaza 2009, or Defensive Shield after the 2002 attack on a Passover Seder), and may not calm down without meetings between Israeli officials and Palestinians via an international mediator.
Three open questions:
How will this influence the Palestinian effort to obtain recognition of a state by the United Nations?
How will it affect the relations between Egypt and Israel?
What about Israel''s recent concerns for social justice?
Israel''s response to an attack against its civilians may spur political antagonists here and elsewhere to heightened efforts in behalf of justice.
Despite frequent anti-Israeli rhetoric on Egyptian media, and several attacks against the pipeline carrying natural gas from Egypt to Israel, there are also signs of ongoing cooperation. Egypt has acted occasionally against the Sinai Beduin and the migrants they smuggle over the desert to Israel. Israel agreed to suspend part of the peace agreement to allow an increase of Egyptian troops in the Sinai. The initial reason was to protect the gas pipeline. This incident may add to the incentives for security cooperation.
Reports that Israeli personnel killed Palestinians on Egyptian territory may reflect the importance Israeli officials assign to this incident, as well as the level of operational cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian forces. There are other reports that Egyptian soldiers died as a result of IDF activities in Sinai.
There have been few comments about social justice on Israeli media since noon yesterday. Depending on how things unfold, it is possible that some of the young protesters will receive notices from their reserve units. Physicians cancelled their work actions at the hospitals serving the southern region. The Students'' Association indicated that it "is lowering its head on this difficult day, joins the families in mourning, and wishes the wounded a speedy recovery."
Its not an ideal time to travel, but we will depart Saturday evening for long scheduled visits with family. We''ll be going to the land that is helpful, friendly, and idealistic. Barack Obama has declared that Bashar al-Assad must leave office. Hillary Clinton described the Syrian opposition as the onset of democracy. In the wonderland of the United Nations, the nonentity of Lebanon is currently chair of the Security Council. So no condemnation of the attack in Israel on civilians may be possible without a condemnation of the IDF''s response.