After the air clears from the IDF probe into the Egyptian border incident, in which an Egyptian border policeman went rogue and killed three IDF soldiers over a five-hour period, the remaining question is: Can the next such incident be stopped?
Put differently: Will the policy, tactical changes and reprimanding of officers that came out of the current probe lead to a better IDF, improved enough to avoid the next similar attacker?
The answer is neither a clear yes or no.
If you believe the IDF, that the primary – or a primary – reason for the security failure was a gap in the border fence and the failure to alert the rank and file IDF border guards to its existence, then closing the gap solves that problem.
Yet the IDF flagged another primary issue: the difficulty of training border guards for both terror and smuggling security issues. This is a much harder problem, if not impossible, to solve.
The IDF arrested and seized smugglers and their cargo approximately 75 times in 2022 and disrupted over 500 smuggling attempts, seizing around NIS 160 million in drugs.
In 2023, the IDF already has, at the midyear point, busted around 40 smuggling attempts and disrupted around 230, seizing around NIS 575m. in drugs so far.
Furthermore, the IDF said there was a drop of 75% in the number of smuggling attempts that have not been thwarted in comparing 2023 to 2019.
All of this sounds great.
But it encourages the IDF to focus on the low-hanging, constant fruit of preventing smuggling.
Smuggling continues to take precedence over rarer terrorism
When a top IDF official presented the situation to a closed press briefing, he could only recall three other terror incidents from Egypt since 2011 (he briefly forgot one incident from 2014), with the last major one occurring in 2016.
It is almost impossible to keep soldiers fully trained and ready for scenario B – terror attack – that only happens once every few or several years while scenario A – smuggling – may happen daily or more frequently.
Add to that the fact that the Nitzana battalion polices 59 km. of border, the Harim battalion polices 75 km. of border and the Magen Eilat battalion polices 66 km. of border – the challenge of being safe and having sufficient forces grouped together to avoid a rare surprise attack seems almost impossible.
In this atmosphere, and on a peaceful border that is arguably the least threatened of Israel’s borders (along with Jordan), it is also not hard to see why regulations regarding using cell phones and being careful about wearing helmets at all times might get ignored.
There is no apparent answer to dealing with such patterns that connect with two of the strongest human emotions: boredom and apathy. Top all of this off with the fact that the next attacker may use a different trick and it is not at all clear that the IDF will be more ready then.
At most, the IDF can make sure that any copycat attackers in the near future do not succeed.