Ya'alon: Israel respects Egypt's sovereignty

Defense minister responds to reports of IDF strike in Sinai, commends Egypt's efforts to curb terrorism in the area.

Netanyahu and Ya'alon at Golani drill 370 (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)
Netanyahu and Ya'alon at Golani drill 370
(photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)
A day after international media reports claimed Israel struck a terrorist cell in the Sinai Peninsula, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon issued a statement stressing that Jerusalem "respects Egypt's full sovereignty."
He added that Israel is aware of Egypt's stepped-up activities to combat terrorism in Sinai, adding that the "Egyptian army is fighting first and foremost to protect Egyptian civilians, as well as Egyptian sovereignty."
"We will not allow rumors and speculations, as they developed over the past 24 hours, to harm the peace agreement," Ya'alon added.
An Israeli Air Force drone reportedly struck a jihadist rocket launching site in the Sinai Peninsula near the Israeli-Egyptian border, killing four suspected terrorists who were planning to launch missiles at Israel, Egyptian security sources told Reuters on Friday.
Details of the strike remain unclear. Five different security sources told Reuters the strike was carried out by Israel, while an Egyptian army spokesman issued a statement on Facebook several hours after the strike denying Israel was behind it. Israeli officials, meanwhile, declined to comment on the reports.
While initial reports cited witnesses as saying at least five jihadists were killed in the strike, Reuters later reported only four died.
One source said that the Israeli aircraft had observed the militants preparing three rocket launchpads to hit Israel. It launched a missile, killing two men, then killed another pair who stepped up to the pads after the first strike.
Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported that a large explosion was heard on Friday afternoon in Rafah, near the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The Egyptian military said there had been two explosions west of the international border 3 km (two miles) from Al Agra on Friday evening but gave no further details.
Egyptian soldiers were searching the area in the north Sinai region to find out more, Egyptian army spokesman Ahmed Ali said in a statement.
AFP cited Egyptian sources as saying the IDF coordinated the attack with the Egyptian authorities, but an Egyptian military spokesman denied that report as well.
"The claim that there exists coordination between the Egyptian and the Israeli side in this matter is a matter completely void of truth," he said.
Israel Radio reported the drone fired while still over Israeli airspace, and that residents saw Egyptian army helicopters flying over the area.
On Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ordered to close the Eilat Airport for two hours.
On Friday, Ma'an quoted an Egyptian security source as saying the IDF's decision to close the airport was a precautionary measure taken by Israel based on Egyptian intelligence that terrorists in Sinai planned to target the Jewish state with missiles.
The IDF instructed the Israel Airports Authority to close down the airport in the southern city which borders Egypt due to a "security assessment." The IDF did not release any specific details on the security reasons which prompted the closure.
According to the Egyptian official cited by Ma'an, Salafi terrorists in Sinai planned to target Israel with shoulder-launched missiles with a range of 70 km, which would put them in well in range of the airspace over Eilat Airport.
On Wednesday, the Egyptian army announced that it had killed 60 terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula in the month since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Citing widening “terrorist operations” in “recent times,” the Egyptian military said it was conducting an intensified campaign in Sinai in coordination with the country’s Interior Ministry to crack down on terrorists who “threaten Egyptian national security.”
Terrorists based mainly in north Sinai near Israel’s border have escalated attacks on security forces and other targets since July 3, when the Egyptian army deposed Morsi and installed a new government.
Ya’alon said last month that Egypt has inserted additional military forces – including assault helicopters – into Sinai after receiving permission from Israel, in line with the peace treaty between the two countries.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Ziv a former head of IDF Operations, said on Thursday night that he “couldn’t rule out the possibility” that there was a connection between the closure of the Eilat Airport and the US decision this week to shut a number of embassies in the region due to al-Qaida terrorist threats.
He suggested that a terrorist plot might have originated on the Egyptian side of the border, in the lawless Sinai Peninsula.
“It appears that we received information in recent hours that something is happening in Sinai,” Ziv told Channel 1 Television.
“Sinai has become a serious problem from a security point of view. Like Afghanistan, it has become an unmanageable territory.”