Politicians blasted the IDF Southern Command on Tuesday after it allowed three armed Palestinians to infiltrate Israel from Gaza – the second infiltration in 72 hours, and the army’s third serious mistake in four days.
MK Haim Jelin, a former Eshkol Regional Council head, said residents of the South have lost trust in the IDF.
“The defense establishment needs to promptly investigate how these terrorists were able to infiltrate 20 kilometers into Israeli territory,” Jelin said. “This incident follows a string of incidents: another attempted infiltration, Iron Dome interceptions and false alarms... There is no doubt this incident has cracked the trust between the army and the residents of the south. We need to learn the lessons and immediately correct the mistakes,” Jelin said.
MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee and a former major-general, called for an investigation.
“The infiltration of terrorists is very serious, and can be defined as a failure,” Ben-Reuven said.
Despite the army stating that it is prepared for Friday’s Land Day, with an increase in troop readiness and advanced observation systems watching the Gaza border around the clock, the incident marked the second time in a week that Palestinians infiltrated Israeli territory without being detected by the IDF.
The three men, who are believed to have crossed the border near the area of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, were armed with grenades, knives and box-cutters when they were stopped by troops.
The grenades were neutralized by a police sapper robot and the three men, all from the same family in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, were taken in for questioning by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Gaza border brief with Seth J. Frantzman
There were no injuries in the incident, which is being investigated by the army.
“This incident should not have happened,” said IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis on a call with reporters on Tuesday. “It was an incident that had the potential to become a terrorist attack. It ended successfully without any injuries, but it’s unclear why they weren’t caught immediately.”
At around 9 a.m. troops on a routine patrol discovered footprints near the Gaza border fence where the previous night there had been a slight indication of a possible infiltration. Dozens of soldiers and police were mobilized to conduct an extensive search of the border area, and security personnel in nearby communities were placed on a heightened state of alert.
The three men were arrested outside the base at 10:35 a.m., around an hour and a half after soldiers first spotted the footprints.
According to Manelis, it is still not clear if the earlier indication on the fence was related to Tuesday’s incident. It also remains unclear whether the suspects walked all the way to the base or if they had been picked up by a vehicle.
Another aspect of the incident being investigated is why the men didn’t use their weapons even though they had several opportunities to do so, including when they were stopped outside Tze’elim by troops.
Surveillance camera footage also caught the three men walking past Kibbutz Tze’elim, which had its gate open and one resident riding by on a bicycle.
Infiltrations of Gazans into Israeli territory are not uncommon, with Palestinians attempting to cross almost daily into Israel due in part to their desperation to escape the dire economic reality of the Strip. Most are caught within several meters after crossing the fence.
ON SUNDAY, the army mistook gunfire in Gaza as rockets being fired into Israel, setting off sirens throughout southern Israel and deploying the expensive Iron Dome missile defense system erroneously.
Unusual machine gun fire was identified by the army as the cause of the mistake but no rockets fired toward Israel were identified, the IDF said then in a statement.
The army said it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the launch of Iron Dome missile interception rockets.
On Saturday, a group of four Palestinians infiltrated Israel near Kibbutz Kissufim and attempted to set fire to the heavy engineering equipment used to construct Israel’s barrier with the Gaza Strip.
A video aired by Al Jazeera showed the four, and a fifth man, cutting the security fence before they sprint to a mound of earth concealing the equipment, which was unguarded as no work was taking place because of the Sabbath.
Shortly after reaching the equipment, smoke is seen coming out of the area and the four are seen running back toward the Gaza Strip after seeing IDF troops approaching the area.
There were no casualties in the incident and only minor damage was caused to the machinery.
Tensions around the Gaza Strip have been on the rise in recent weeks, with several security incidents occurring along the border fence and a large-scale Hamas military drill carried out this week.
For Land Day on Friday, Gazans are expected to set up several tent-cities as close as they can to the border-fence and to remain there until Nakba Day on May 15, as a form of peaceful resistance.
According to Manelis the IDF is preparing for the day by bringing in reinforcements and placing troops on high alert.
“We are preparing for Land Day and we will not let anyone cross the border so that Israelis will have a safe Passover Seder,” asserted Manelis. “We hold Hamas responsible for everything in the Gaza Strip as well as today’s incident.
“I recommend that they don’t test us,” he said.
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