Analysis: IDF prepared for a different attack

It was thought terrorists from Gaza-based PRC were interested in abducting soldier, civilian, would infiltrate in middle of night.

Security forces standing next to an attacked bus 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Lior Grundman)
Security forces standing next to an attacked bus 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Lior Grundman)
Israel had several days to prepare for the attack that took place on Thursday near the Netafim border crossing with Egypt. Intelligence provided several days earlier by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) referred to a large attack that the Popular Resistance Committees planned to launch from the Sinai Peninsula.
For that reason, the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion – a member of which was killed in the attack – and the Israel Police’s YAMAM Counter-terrorism Unit were already deployed along the border and able to respond quickly to neutralize the terrorists.
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Had they not been there, a senior IDF officer said Thursday, the number of casualties would have been significantly higher.
The problem, though, was that the army prepared for a different attack.
It thought, for example, that the terrorists from the Gazabased PRC were mostly interested in abducting a soldier or a civilian, and would therefore infiltrate Israel in the middle of the night and not, as they did, in the middle of the day. For that reason, the IDF also did not think that the gunmen would cross into Israel where they did, since it is directly under an Egyptian military outpost.
The fact that the attack did not play out as the IDF had assessed does not mean that the terrorists did not plan to kidnap a soldier or a civilian.
This was probably thwarted by the YAMAM and Golani’s fast response. The location of the attack, though – right under the nose of the Egyptian military – is indicative of the larger threat and problem that Israel faces today not only from the Gaza Strip, but also from Sinai.
On Sunday, the Egyptian military launched Operation Eagle in coordination with the IDF and poured 1,000 soldiers and hundreds of armored personnel carriers into the Sinai Peninsula, but apparently that was just not enough.
A combination of a security vacuum and a more sympathetic regime in Cairo to Hamas and its terror proxies in the Gaza Strip is turning Egypt – and particularly the Sinai Peninsula – into a major challenge for Israel.
Since Hosni Mubarak’s fall, the number of intelligence alerts that the Shin Bet has recorded regarding possible attacks from Sinai has more than tripled, and there is a standing general warning in place at the IDF’s Edom Division, responsible for the border.
That is why in recent weeks, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry have been raising the Sinai threat in talks with foreign dignitaries who have been asked by Israel to pressure the interim government in Cairo to start to act.
The problem is that unlike in the Gaza Strip, Israel will not – and likely cannot – act freely militarily-speaking when it comes to Egypt, even if it knows about a ticking terrorist bomb. Ties with the interim regime have been tense ever since Mubarak was overthrown in February, and an Israeli attack on Egyptian soil – no matter what the target and the legitimacy – would not be taken lightly.
For that reason, the IDF was extra careful on Thursday when shooting into Egypt territory in response to gunfire from Sinai.
In one case, soldiers crossed the border by several meters and neutralized the terrorists.
They immediately retreated.
In response to the attacks on Thursday, the IDF will likely maintain a larger presence along the border and the Defense Ministry will speed up construction of the security barrier it has been building there for a year.
The problem is that the fence is being built slowly, and no matter how fast they move, realistically it will not be completed before the middle of 2012.
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