By Haaretz - The security situation on the Israel-Egypt border has now reached crisis point:
Beyond this week's dramatic media coverage of the female soldier deployed with the Karakal infantry battalion credited with helping to end a terror attack, and the subsequent Facebook
correspondence between her and a female colleague who hid when the firing began, the incident last Friday in which Israel Defense Forces soldier Cpl. Natanel Yehoshua Yahalomi was killed gives Israel cause for concern.
This was the third military operation carried out by Islamic organizations on the Egyptian border in the past three months. In other incidents, an Arab-Israeli worker engaged in the construction of the border fence was killed, and extremists attacked an Egyptian base and killed 16
Egyptian policemen there.
Israeli spokesmen are remaining diplomatic, loath to hint in public about what Israel's security establishment has concluded. But the truth is that Israeli security officials are
convinced that steps reportedly taken by the Egyptians to quell extremists' terror activity in the Sinai peninsula region have had negligible effect.
Even after the widely publicized operation carried out by Egyptian security forces in Sinai, during August and September, dozens of armed Bedouin were able to launch an attack on an Egyptian security compound in El-Arish. Such developments indicate that Egypt's government has not displayed the will or ability necessary to bring order to the region.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi exploited the murder of the 16 policemen near Kerem Shalom on August 5 to carry out a purge in his army intelligence forces. Yet the shock caused by this massacre, perpetrated during the iftar meal held to end a religious fast, did not compel Morsi to take the serious measures needed to restore order to Sinai. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership is
more concerned about holding onto power in Cairo, and in cities along the Nile; rampages conducted by groups influenced by Al-Qaida in the Sinai Peninsula are a lower priority to Egypt's new government.
Morsi tried to engage with extremists in Sinai, but the negotiations led nowhere. Attacks on Egypt's army in Sinai have escalated during the past two weeks. Palestinian security officials claim that Islamic Jihad activists in Sinai have threatened to take action against Morsi on three
different levels, should Egypt's president continue to pressure them:
they threaten to attack tourist targets around the Red Sea; sites in the Suez Canal region; and also various Egyptian cities. Along these same lines, sources claim that the explosion that occurred on September 22 at the Talkha train station constituted a message sent by extremist organizations to the Muslim Brotherhood.
At Ismailia, on the western bank of the Suez Canal, authorities uncovered a huge arsenal of explosives, which were apparently to be used by extremists for an attack on the canal.
Meantime, IDF forces remain on alert along the Egyptian border. Security officials doubt that last Friday's attack was the last of its kind. As the extremist organizations see it, they have strong reason to conduct reprisals against Israel - among other things, extremists want to avenge
the killing of one of their major operatives, who died due to a mysterious explosion which occurred while he was traveling on his motorcycle in Sinai a month ago (Israel has not acknowledged any
responsibility for this incident ).
The problem here is clear and ominous: we are talking about increasingly expansive activity undertaken by highly radical organizations that view Israel as an accessible target, in a period when
a new Egyptian government has not shown much determination to bring such militant terror actions to an end. This problem is linked to Hamas' situation in Gaza. Israel killed three Palestinians in the Strip last week, in an aerial action. The three militants belonged to an extremist Islamic group, one that Shin Bet security service officials claim had been planning to launch a terror attack from the Egyptian border against an Israeli target. Yet, like another incident that occurred earlier
this month, it appears the three men also had links with Hamas.
For practical reasons - particularly a desire to refrain from a military standoff with Israel, which might jeopardize its rule in Gaza -
Hamas is reluctant to initiate terror attacks directly. However, Hamas maintains contact with extremist groups in Sinai, and it appears to be indirectly involved in actions taken against Israel. Israel and Hamas are aware of the organizational affiliation of militants who are killed
in operations; officials from each side are aware of what the other side knows.
As things stand, it seems that Hamas will find it difficult to restrain violent actions undertaken by militants in Sinai who have some connection to it.
Israel is also caught in a trap. It has very limited freedom to act in Sinai, due to fears of a conflagration with Egypt's government. Should Israeli officials gain information about plans to launch a terror attack from Sinai, the main plotters of which are situated in Gaza, they would prefer to strike against the Gazan militants before the action is initiated in Sinai. On the other hand, another killing of operatives in Gaza would escalate tensions with Hamas. Despite the basic interest
shared by Israel and Hamas in the continuation of relative quiet, the chances of an eruption of violence on the Gaza border in the near future seem to be rising.
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