Sinai's snare

Sinai has become even less safe for Israeli holidaymakers than before.

sinai beach 88 (photo credit: )
sinai beach 88
(photo credit: )
The annual rite of warning Israelis to stay away from Sinai during the holiday season was replayed again on the eve of the New Year but with a difference. With the Philadephi corridor no longer in Israeli hands and with any semblance of a border there effectively erased, Sinai has become even less safe for Israeli holidaymakers than before. As Israeli security sources have been warning repeatedly, Egypt doesn't really control the peninsula and the terror infrastructure there is solid and thriving. When this is combined with post-disengagement unhindered access to Gaza and the terrorist groups there, the danger becomes more acute. The Counterterrorism Bureau of the National Security Council warned Israeli tourists about this anarchic state of affairs for the past month but without much impact. What did impress beach-bound Israelis, however, was Sunday's reference to terrorist units already in Sinai with a clearly defined mission to kidnap Israelis, transport them over the defunct Philadelphi corridor to Gaza and there hold them for ransom, demanding the release of terrorists in return for Israeli hostages. This specific scenario for Sinai-Gaza collaboration frightened enough Israelis to change their plans, heed warnings, not cross into Egypt and head back home if they were already there. Moreover, these warnings come after the Taba and Ras el-Satan attacks of last Succot and the more recent Sharm e-Sheikh bombing. Thus by Rosh Hashana eve, for the first time in years more Israelis left Sinai than entered it. The 3,000 Israelis in Sinai at the week's outset dwindled to 1,000. Encouraging as that is given habitual public indifference to such warnings that is still 1,000 too many. Though in much reduced numbers, Israelis continued to enter Sinai. Others, thumbing their noses at all admonitions, chose to stay. It is also important to keep in mind that this isn't the end of the holiday season's Egyptian getaway. The more family-oriented Rosh Hashana never marked the peak of the Israeli exodus to Sinai. Succot is when the greatest numbers of Israelis flock south of the border. That's when the real test will come. Last year about 30,000 Israelis spent Succot in Sinai then too ignoring official exhortations to avoid traveling there. It is hard to imagine what more needs to happen to convince some to change their reckless ways. Perhaps the time has come for the rest of us to make it clear to the foolhardy few that they are on their own. They cannot expect the government to expend diplomatic capital, endanger rescue personnel, and incur great expense to be there for them if they get into predictable dire straits. Collective obligation can only go so far. This isn't only the case regarding those who disregard clear and present terror threats. Israelis searching for the exotic and seeking the good life in distant destinations often throw all caution flagrantly to the wind. This is true of Israelis traveling to forbidden strife-ridden corners of the Indian subcontinent and Indochina, of those who choose to climb the Andes during snowstorms, and of those like the six hikers who recently insisted on trekking through the unfamiliar Bolivian jungle, in violation of all local safety regulations and plain common sense. Colossal hutzpa is involved when some folks laugh off travel advisories, prudence and warnings but then expect the state whose injunctions they derisively ignored to help them out of the disasters they courted. Indeed this small state cares even for its most rash citizens, as was amply evidenced in the six hikers' Bolivian misadventure. But limits must be placed on this commitment, thereby perhaps signaling future headstrong, thoughtless and careless adventurers that if they want to gamble with their lives they may do so this is a free country but it's their lookout. Those who brush off all precautions must be ready to face the consequences by themselves. Perhaps if wilderness trekkers were to foot the bill for rescue efforts necessitated by their precipitant audacity, they would be less irresponsible. Perhaps if those who stay in the Sinai, despite persistent warnings, were told that they couldn't expect the rest of us to bail them out of whatever they get themselves into, they would think again.