Rocket attacks on Israel fuel fears of ISIS pivot from Syria to Egypt

The Egyptian military has been at war with the Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai peninsula

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the two rockets launched from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that landed in the south’s Eshkol Regional Council late on Sunday night.
This is the first time since May that such an incident has occurred.
“While dodging a Jewish aircraft flying over the Wilaya (Sinai Peninsula), the Mujahedin fired 2 Grad rockets at the Jewish Council (Eshkol),” the ISIS affiliate in Sinai wrote in the claim on Amaq, the group’s news site. It also claimed several other deadly attacks against the Egyptian military in the tumultuous province.
Residents reported hearing explosions shortly after the sirens sounded late on Sunday night as the rockets landed in open territory, causing no damage or injuries.
The Egyptian military has been engaged in an extensive military campaign against Islamic State terrorists in Sinai who are centered around Rafah, as well as in el-Arish, Bir Abd and Sheikh Zuweid.
As the war against Islamic State in Syria appears to be drawing to a close, Israeli intelligence officials fear that many ISIS fighters might choose to go to the Sinai Peninsula and join the group’s affiliate there, which – despite its small size – is considered by many to be one of the most effective ISIS branches carrying out numerous deadly attacks on Egyptian security forces.
Israel shares a 240-km. border with the Sinai, and Jerusalem and Cairo share an interest in the fight against the insurgents in the desert peninsula.
According to Islamic State, Israel has carried out strikes against its positions.
According to Oded Berkowitz, regional director of intelligence – Africa division at MAX-Security Solutions, foreign press have reported that Israel is helping the Egyptian military against terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.
Earlier on Sunday, several Egyptian military checkpoints were attacked by Islamic State insurgents, killing six soldiers and wounding another 37. According to Egyptian authorities quoted by Reuters, the checkpoints in northern Sinai were attacked by some 100 ISIS terrorists using car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and other light weapons.
According to Berkowitz, the rise in attacks against Egyptian military personnel is due to the increased pressure felt both by ISIS in Iraq and Syria as well as its Sinai affiliate.
“When cornered and desperate they turn to more extreme measures.
Essentially, if six months ago, Wilayat Sinai was fighting to expand its territory and area of operations in Sinai, today they are fighting for their survival there,” Berkowitz told The Jerusalem Post.
Following the attack, Egypt announced that it would not be reopening the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip as planned. The crossing was supposed to be reopened between Monday and Thursday following the reconciliation deal reached between Hamas and Fatah last week.
The border crossing, which is a lifeline to many Gazans seeking to leave the blockaded Hamas-run enclave, has been more or less closed since the ouster of former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Gisha, an Israeli Human Rights organization, the border crossing was open for only 32 non-consecutive days in 2015 and 42 non-consecutive days in 2016.
The Islamic State group affiliate was previously known as the al-Qaida linked Ansar Beit al-Maqdis until it pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014. While the jihadist group does not consider Israel its principal target, and incidents along the Israel- Egypt border are rare, there have been several attacks – some deadly.
In April, the government decided to close its side of the Taba border crossing between Eilat and Egypt in light of concerns of terrorist attacks targeting tourists in the volatile Sinai region.
The Counter-Terrorism Bureau said Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz made the decision following consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, citing “the intensifying activities” of ISIS terrorists in the Sinai region in recent months as well as the severity and seriousness of the threat of an attack.
A few months earlier, the group claimed responsibility for a rocket barrage fired from the Sinai towards Israel’s resort city of Eilat. The Iron Dome missile system intercepted three projectiles, while a fourth landed in open territory in February. There were no casualties, but four people were treated for shock.