Al Masry Al Youm, an independent liberal Egyptian newspaper, reports that Egypt has identified at least three of the Eilat attackers and that they are Egyptian, and not Gazan as Israel has claimed:
Egyptian authorities have identified three of the people responsible for carrying out a terrorist attack in Israel, just north of Eilat, on Thursday, in which seven Israelis were killed, according to an Egyptian security source.
The same source added that one of the men identified is a leader of terrorist cells in Sinai, while another is a fugitive who owns an ammunition factory.
What is intriguing about this story is that it would explain many things which appeared to be discrepancies when the theory was that Gazans were involved. First, the Israeli bus driversaid the attackers wore Egyptian army uniforms. Now, it might be possible for Gazans to get such uniforms, but it would be much easier for Egyptians to do so. Second, the Israelis themselves have disagreed about the authors of the crime, with Netanyahu claiming the Popular Resistance Commitee was behind it and the IDF spokesperson specifically rejecting her boss’ claim. All of which leads one to believe that the Israelis don’t have a clue who was behind it. Third, well over half the attackers escaped, which is highly unusual for a terror attack on Israel. It would be much easier for Egyptian terrorists to melt back into Sinai than for Gazans to do so. Fourth, it would be a lot easier for Egyptians to mount an attack on Eilat than for Gazans to do so considering how far the latter would have to travel to get to the Israeli city. Fifth, Israel bombed a house containing the entire top leadership of the PRC, killing three commanders. If the PRC was responsible for the attack it simply beggars belief for their top leaders to be sitting in the same house together when they should be going into deep hiding. Sixth, there have been five bombings of the Egyptian pipeline bringing gas to Israel. Clearly, there are Egyptians who, in the light of the new Egyptian leadership, are not happy with continuing good relations between Egypt and Israel and willing to engage in terror to disrupt it.
All this would mean, if true, that Israel was not only caught with its pants down by the attack itself, but it hasn’t been able to pull them up in the aftermath either. I can’t recall previously seeing such disarray within the Israeli military-political echelons as a result of a terror attack. But it would seem to indicate some serious dysfunction.
H/t to readers Mary Hughes Thompson and Chayma for the story and link.
UPDATE: I’m just as competitive as the next political blogger, and to my chagrin I wrote this post last night (18 hours ago) and then queried a few Egyptians I knew about how realiable a source Al Masry was. Then I waited for a reply, but one never came. Then I somehow forgot I hadn’t actually published the post. A comment in another thread by a reader made me realize I hadn’t published this and so did so a few hours ago. But this delay allowed me to read Yossi Gurvitz’s 972 Magazine post which goes over some of the ground here, but adds a few interesting points I either didn’t know or hadn’t considered, which further buttress the argument that Bibi and Barak are perpetrating a fraud of massive proportions.
First, Gurvitz argues that Israel always releases the names and home villages of captured or killed terrorists within hours of the attack. For Israel, it is a way of pinning blame where Israel feels it belongs. But in the case of this incident, not only hasn’t Israel released this information, but IDF spokesperson Avital Leibowitz, when asked for it by Gurvitz, flatly refused to provide it. Sorry fellas, but something ain’t right here. Israel is a creature of habit. It follows a time honored routine in matters like this. The fact that it’s deviating from SOP is a major “tell.”
Also, Gurvitz notes that B’Tselem has tried to identify, through Gaza sources, who the attackers might’ve been, and has failed. In addition, any Gaza family which discovers a relative was killed in a terror attack would do the Jewish equivalent of sit shiva. This would be a public ritual and known to everyone in Gaza. Yet somehow mysteriously there are no such mourning tents for the dead attackers.
If those of us who smell a rat here are right, then it would appear that Barak and Bibi knew the attackers were Egyptian. That meant that they had two choices: either commence a major row with Egypt over the attack which might lead to a regional or international escalation which Israel couldn’t afford considering it’s already feuding with Turkey. Or Israel could blame its usual whipping boy, Gaza and Hamas. This way it could attack the usual suspects, draw blood, and go home after declaring victory. Israelis wouldn’t be any the wiser, and Israel wouldn’t have to upset the unsteady apple cart of relations with the new Egyptian regime.
Something ain’t right about this picture. It is the duty of the Israeli media to start asking questions, and pronto. We may have yet another scandal brewing here.
UPDATE I: Prof. Joel Beinin, a respected Egypt studies scholar confirms that Al Masry is an indepencent liberal newspaper with no particular axe to grind regarding this story. He says that Al Masry’s story makes sense and might explain why Israel killed Egyptian security forces by accident. In other words, I’ve reported earlier that the Israeli bus driver whose bus was attacked near Eilat said the attackers wore Egyptian army uniforms. Most of these terrorists escaped back into Egypt. Israel would’ve alerted the Egyptians to this and the latter would have pursued them. But then you’d have legitimate Egyptian soldiers pursuing attackers wearing Egyptian military uniforms. It stands to reason that Israeli forces also pursuing the attackers inside Egypt might’ve easily mistaken the good guys for the bad guys.
Interestingly, the killing of the Egyptian soldiers by Israel indicates that Israel violated Egyptian sovereignty in hot pursuit of the terrorists. It’s common for Israel to do this with weak states like Lebanon, but not more formidable neighbors like Egypt. This potentially could be a incendiary issue if it got out widely inside Egypt.
UPDATE II: Prof. Ellis Goldberg, an Egypt specialist at the University of Washington, also just confirmed the reliability of Al Masry in the context of this story. He sent me a link to a new story in today’s Al Masry. It describes the Israeli incursion which killed the five Egyptian security officers (not three, as the NY Times has reported):
Reliable sources said that an Israeli unit entered (Sinai) at border point 79, in pursuit of the Eilat attackers, and then fought with the Egyptian unit stationed there. The sources said that an Israeli helicopter intervened in the clash, and fired two missiles, and then hovered vertically over the Egyptian unit and opened fire with two machine guns, killing instantly Captain Ahmed Galal–with nine shots and a number of [missile] fragments–two soldiers, and two others [who] died later.
…A vehicle belonging to the border security forces, was on its way to the scene, and was exposed to a barrage of fire launched by the Israeli force and the armed groups.
What is extraordinary about all this is that Israeli forces not only invaded Egypt to pursue these attackers, but that they engaged with legitimate Egyptian security forces (rather than the militants), and severely sabotaged the Egyptian operation to capture the killers. This meant that in the gun battle, the Egyptian forces were not just fighting the Eilat militants, but the IDF as well. Man, this is a screw-up of massive proportions.
It is one thing to kill terrorists who’ve attacked your citizens, this may be justified. But in this case the IDF has killed 14 Gazans who likely had nothing to do with the Eilat assault, not even the ones Israel has identified as Gaza militants. Just as many parts of Operation Cast Lead qualify to be investigated as war crimes, I’d say the Gaza reprisals are right up there on the scale of impunity. Can the leader of any nation get away with attacking another that didn’t even attack it at all? If this isn’t a war crime, what is?
The Al Masry describes the three Eilat attackers its forces killed and there can be no doubt that they are Egyptian and not Gazan:
The 3 attackers are … the actual commander of the terrorist and takfiri (militant islamists) in central Sinai, one of the inmates who escaped from Egyptian prison during the recent security chaos, and a member of the (Salafist) group “Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad” who owns an ammunition factory that (Egyptian) security forces discovered last week.
Idan Landau also writes an extraordinarily comprehensive blog post, Conspiracy in the South, about this in which he reaches similar conclusions to Yossi and I. Idan puts this incident in the historic context of a number of other Israeli operations, among them the 1982 Lebanon invasion, which used equally bogus information to justify themselves. He also equates the Israeli government’s fake account to the Bush administration’s bogus claims of WMD which led us to invade Iraq in 2003.
Idan also reinforces a post I wrote during the height of the J14 protest uproar. I reported a story by Shalom Yerushalmi in which he warned the Israeli leadership not to engage in a military adventure that would distract the Israeli public from the very real social issues raised by the tent protests. If we are all correct, and Bibi and Barak took advantage of the terror attack to escalate it into a major regional crisis, then Yerushalmi’s point will have been proven. Bibi did precisely what the reporter had warned him not to do. Masterful (unfortunately only in Hebrew).