In Lebanon, the IDF only reconsidered its policy of
ignoring Hezbollah’s massive arms build-up in the south after the
Shi’ite group launched its war against Israel in July 2006.
In Gaza, the IDF only reconsidered its willingness to allow Hamas to
massively arm itself with missiles and rockets after the terror group
running the Strip massively escalated the scale of its missile war
against Israel in December 2008.
It is to be hoped that Thursday’s sophisticated,
deadly, multi-pronged, combined arms assault by as yet unidentified
enemy forces along the border with Egypt will suffice to force the IDF
to alter its view of Egypt.
By Thursday afternoon, seven Israelis had been
killed and 26 had been wounded by unidentified attackers who entered
Israel from Egyptian-ruled Sinai and staged a four-pronged attack. The
attack included two assaults on civilian passenger buses and private
cars. The assailants used automatic rifles in the first attack, and
rifles as well as either anti-tank missiles or rocket-propelled grenades
in the second attack.
The assault also involved the use of missiles and
roadside bombs against an IDF border patrol, and open combat between the
attackers and police SWAT teams.
There can be
little doubt of the sophisticated planning and training required to
carry out this attack. The competence of the assailants indicates that
their organizations are highly professional, well-trained and in
possession of accurate intelligence about Israeli civilian traffic and
military operations along the border with Egypt.
Without the benefit of surprise, Thursday’s
attackers will be hard pressed to maintain their offensive in the coming
days. But the possibility that the assault was just the opening round
of a new irregular war emanating from Sinai cannot be ruled out.
Unfortunately, due to the IDF’s institutional opposition to confronting
emerging threats before they become deadly, Israel faces the prospect of
escalated aggression from Sinai with no clear strategy for contending
with the enemy actors operating in the peninsula.
This enemy system includes Hamas, Muslim
Brotherhood, and al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic terror cells. It also
includes the Egyptian military and security forces operating in the
area, whose intentions towards Israel are at best unclear.
LIKE THE watershed events in Judea and Samaria, in
Lebanon and in Gaza, Thursday’s attack from Sinai did not come out of
nowhere. It was a natural progression of the deterioration of the
security situation in Sinai in recent months and years.
For more than a decade all the security trends in Sinai have been negative.
is populated mainly by Beduin. When Israel controlled Sinai from 1967
through 1981, the Beduin were willing to cooperate with Israel on both
civil and military affairs. When Egypt took over in 1981, it punished
the Beduin for their willingness to work with Israel. Perhaps as a
consequence of this, perhaps owing more to regional trends emanating
from Saudi Arabia, since the mid-1990s, the Sinai Beduin, like
neighboring tribes in the Jordanian desert and, to a degree, their
Israeli Beduin brethren, have been undergoing a process of
Islamification as the loyalties of more and more tribes have been
transferred to regional and global jihadist forces.
The first tangible indication of this came with the 2004 bombing of the Hilton Hotel in Taba.
attack was followed by bombings in Sharm e-Sheikh and Dahab in 2005 and
2006. All the attacks were reportedly carried out by Beduin terror
cells affiliated with al-Qaida.
Since the Palestinian terror war began in 2000,
then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak did almost nothing to prevent
massive arms smuggling by Palestinian terror groups through Sinai. The
Palestinians – from Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad – were assisted by
Sinai Beduin as well as by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and
Hezbollah. Mubarak also did next to nothing to prevent human and drug
trafficking from Sinai into Israel and Gaza.
Mubarak did, however, protect the Egyptian regime’s
control over Sinai by among other things sealing the official land
border from Egypt to Gaza at Rafah, defending Egyptian police stations
and other security installations and vital infrastructure such as the
gas pipeline from attack. Forces from his Interior Ministry kept a firm
grip on the Beduin tribes.
As bad and increasingly complex as the security
situation was becoming in Sinai under Mubarak, it has drastically
deteriorated since he was overthrown in February. Actually, the Egyptian
government arguably lost control over Sinai while Mubarak was being
overthrown, and until last weekend made no attempt to reassert its
sovereign control over the area.
As the world media ecstatically reported on the
photogenic anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square, almost no attention
was paid to the insurgency unfolding in Sinai. Shortly after the
protests began in Cairo in mid-January, Hamas sent forces over the
border into Egyptian Rafah and El-Arish to attack police stations with
rifles and RPGs. Hamas fighters reportedly went as far south as Suez.
There they joined other terror forces in bombing and raiding the police
station in the town that abuts the Suez Canal. In consortium with local
elements, Hamas carried out the first of five bombings so far of Egypt’s
gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan.
In a sharp departure from Mubarak’s policies, the
ruling military junta opened Egypt’s border with Gaza and so gave local
and regional jihadists the ability to freely traverse the international
Hamas and its fellow terrorists have used this
freedom not only to steeply expand the missile and personnel transfers
to the Gaza Strip. They have also escalated their challenge to Egyptian
regime control over Sinai.
Over the past several months, in addition to
recurrent bombings of the gas pipeline, these forces have attacked
police stations and the port at Nueiba. In the wake of their July 30
attack on El-Arish in which two policemen and three civilians were
killed, jihadist cells distributed leaflets calling for the imposition
of Islamic law on Sinai.
According to media reports, jihadists also took over many of the main highways in Sinai at the beginning of August.
LATEST assaults and the open challenge the leaflets and road takeovers
pose to Egyptian state authority caused the military to deploy two
battalions of armored forces to Sinai last weekend.
The stated aim of their operation is to defeat the
al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist cells operating in the peninsula. Since
Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel prohibits the deployment of Egyptian
military forces to Sinai, the Egyptian military regime requested and
received Israeli permission for the deployment.
It is unclear how effective the latest Egyptian
military deployment had been until Thursday’s cross-border attacks on
Israel had been. What is clear enough is that Israel cannot expect to
receive serious cooperation from the Egyptian military in combating the
enemy forces emanating from Sinai. Indeed, at this point it is
impossible to rule out the possibility that Egyptian military personnel
participated in the murderous attacks.
Passengers in one of the civilian cars attacked by
gunmen in the first stage of the operation told the media that their
attackers were wearing Egyptian army uniforms.
immediately after the attacks took place, Egyptian military authorities
denied the attackers entered Israel from Sinai. These denials signaled
that the Egyptian military government will not assist Israel in its
efforts to defend itself against the rapidly escalating threats it now
faces from Sinai.
And this is not surprising. Since it overthrew
Mubarak, the ruling military junta has assiduously cultivated close ties
with the politically ascendant Muslim Brotherhood.
days before the attack, the IDF announced that its 2012-2017 budget
includes no increase in either force size or equipment levels. As one
IDF official told Reuters, “Our current capabilities are sufficient for
our foreseeable requirements, though we will be investing anew in
training and improving rapid-response mobility to allow for more
flexibility during emergencies.”
Recently, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny
Gantz explained that the reason the IDF does not intend to change the
training or size of the Southern Command, despite Egypt’s increasing
hostility towards Israel, is because Israel doesn’t want to provoke
Egypt by preparing for the worst. In the immediate aftermath of the
attack, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quick to ignore Egypt and point
his finger at the usual suspects in Gaza.
While it is reasonable to assume the Palestinians
were involved in the attack, it is unreasonable to assume that they are
the only culprits. And given the deteriorating security situation in
Sinai and Egypt’s escalating hostility, it is madness to limit Israel’s
attention in the wake of the attack to Gaza.
What the attack shows is that Israel must prepare
for the new strategic reality emerging in Egypt. True, it is early yet
to predict how Egypt is going to behave in the coming years. But we do
not need perfect information about the emerging strategic reality to
prepare for it.
Israel’s requirements are clear. We need to invest
the necessary resources to fortify the 240-km. border with Egypt by
completing the security fence.
We need to
increase the Southern Command’s force levels by at least one regular
division, preferably an armored one. We need to equip the IDF with more
tanks and other platforms designed for desert warfare. We need for the
IDF to begin training in desert warfare for the first time in 30 years.
We need to drastically ramp up the quality of our intelligence about Egypt.
Thursday, we were shown that although the revolution in Egypt was not
about Israel, Israel will be its first foreign victim as the new Egypt
rejects the former regime’s peace with the Jewish state.
It is a bitter reality. But it is reality all the same and we need to contend with it, as the blood in our streets makes clear.