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(photo credit: AP)
The suicide attack that rocked the streets of Eilat on Monday and killed three Israelis was a nightmare turned reality for the Israeli defense establishment.
Immediately following the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, security officials began warning of the creation of a "terror triangle" connecting the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Israel.
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With Israel out of Gaza and deployed tightly along the security fence, terror groups found it impossible to cross into Israel in the traditional way - infiltrating settlements or IDF outposts inside and just outside the Strip. Now, their only way to launch attacks against Israel was with Kassam rockets - launched periodically at the western Negev - and by sending terrorists to the Sinai and then across the border and into Israel.
With the attack scenario in hand, the IDF drew up a plan called "Hourglass," which called for the erection of an electronic fence along the 220 kilometer border with Egypt from Rafah to Eilat.
In 2005, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the border together with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and called for the establishment of a barrier at least in the 50 km. area near Eilat. In the end, however, only NIS 100 million - out of the NIS 1.5 billion needed - was transferred by the government for the entire project.
On Monday, Israel's hourglass ran out, although senior officers predicted that the lone suicide attack would not be enough to prompt the government to begin dealing with the strategic threat knocking on Eilat's front door.
In 2006, the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) caught more than 100 Palestinian terrorists who originated in the Gaza Strip and tried crossing into Israel from the Sinai Desert. Among the terrorists were suicide bombers, weapons experts on their way to establish terror infrastructure in the West Bank and masterminds of soldier-kidnapping plots. In addition to the terrorists, security forces also succeeded in dismantling 11 terror rings that had established infrastructure that was used for infiltrations along the border.
Palestinian terrorists are not the only concern for Israel when it comes to the Egyptian border. Last March, security officials told The Jerusalem Post that global Jihad terror cells were operating in the desert a mere 30 km. from Israel's border and were involved in planning attacks against Israel.
The IDF unit responsible for stopping the terror flow is Division 80, headed by Brig.-Gen. Imad Faris, who described the border Monday as lacking any type of "mental or physical barrier." The Karakal Battalion patrols the Jordanian border near Eilat and three IDF infantry companies, commanded by a lieutenant colonel, patrol the Egyptian border area around Eilat.
A regional brigade - consisting of some three battalions - is in charge of the rest of the border. Additional undercover units are also used for ambushes and patrols in the vicinity. Three weeks ago, Faris's division conducted a major exercise during which it drilled a terrorist attack along the lines of the suicide bombing in Eilat on Monday.
In addition to the wake-up call concerning the threat emanating from Sinai, the attack sends another clear message to Israel: The days of suicide bombings inside Israeli cities are far from over.
While the Central Command under the direction of Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh has done a remarkable job in the past year at rubbing the terror flow into Israel, Palestinian terror groups are gaining strength and officials have recently begun warning of the possibility of an outbreak of a third intifada in the West Bank by the summer.
It also does not make much of a difference which terror group was behind the attack. Nowadays, most of the groups - Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Tanzim, Al Aksa Brigades, PFLP - work together with one supplying the bomb, the other the bomber and a third the infiltration route. The attack is also a way of trying to divert the attention from the Palestinian internal factional fighting and unite the groups to fight against their common enemy, Israel, instead of against one another.
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