The incident on the Egyptian border on Saturday is a reminder of the threats that have come from this region in the past.
In general, the last decade has seen a reduction in these threats as Egypt’s military has brought peace and stability to much of the Sinai. However, drug smuggling and other issues continue to be a problem along the long border between Israel and the peninsula.
In August 2011, there was an attack near Eilat. At the time, it was characterized as a rare incident following the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak six months earlier during the “Arab Spring” protests. In that attack eight Israelis were killed, which was blamed on Palestinian terrorists who were operating in Sinai. During that period, weapons were also arriving in Sinai from Libya and other places, and smuggling was occurring to Gaza.
The attack happened on Highway 12 in which an Egged bus was targeted and then a bomb detonated. The incident was made worse by the fact that subsequent clashes led to the deaths of Egyptian forces. VOA News noted, “Egypt says it will withdraw its ambassador from Israel following Israeli military action that killed three members of Egypt’s security forces along the two nations’ border. Israel says its military action was aimed at Gaza militants who had staged attacks inside Israel, and that it regrets the deaths. But that has done little to calm public anger in Egypt.”
In another serious incident, there was a cross-border attack in September 2012. The attackers approached the border and targeted soldiers who were in an area where a security fence was being constructed and also where migrants were trying to cross.
An extremist group linked to al-Qaeda was allegedly behind the attack, which happened 40 km. south of Nitzana along the border. The Guardian noted that the terrorists “commandeered two armored vehicles, which they drove towards the Israeli border. According to Arab media reports, one vehicle exploded on the Egyptian side of the border, the other broke through the security fence near the Kerem Shalom border crossing and was hit by Israeli air force planes.”
A larger border fence this time
Israel was constructing a larger fence along the border, which was designed to be about five meters high. By 2013, most of this fence was complete. This coincided with a change in government in Egypt and the rise of current leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
By 2017 a 17-km. section of the fence was completed that raised its height from five to eight meters. The fence played a key role in reducing smuggling and also migrants, who used to try to cross the border in the early 2000s. Sisi has crushed the Sinai-based extremist groups in the last several years. Smuggling to Gaza has also been reduced.
This means that in recent years the threat from Sinai has shifted. The era when Sinai had terror groups that targeted tourists, hotels and even ships and aircraft is now apparently long over. In addition, the time when Sinai had groups that used to massacre civilians and target security forces weekly, has also changed. On the border, the Egyptian security forces and their border patrol posts and forts appear secure.
While terror was reduced, drug smuggling wasn't
In the last weeks there have been several thwarted smuggling attempts from Egypt. These attempts have included more than NIS 300,000 in drugs in one incident and NIS 6 million in another and are in addition to other attempts at drug smuggling earlier this year and in late 2022.
Israel and Egypt enjoy close relations and security cooperation. The Sinai, however, has long been a place where there are issues that affect stability – including terror threats, drug gangs and human smuggling.