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Sinai Islamists Attack Egyptian Border Outpost and Israeli Border Crossing, 16 Egyptian Police Dead, 7 Attackers

sinai attack on israel

Egyptian armored personnel carrier burns after being attacked by IAF (IDF)

Today, something unprecedented happened along the Egypt-Israel border.  A group of Sinai Islamists, possibly including local Bedouins and foreign Al Qaeda elements, attacked a major Egyptian border post near the Kerem Shalom crossing.  They killed 16 Egyptian police officers who were preparing to break their Ramadan fast, then stole two armored vehicles, both of which sought to penetrate Israeli territory.  One vehicle broke through the barrier and was attacked by the IAF and destroyed.  The Israeli army had been warned in advance by the Shin Bet and was prepared for the border attack.  No such luck for the Egyptian police.

Since Mubarak’s overthrow, Islamists have reportedly assumed control of portions of Sinai, making alliances with disaffected local Bedouin.  Last summer, they attacked the southern Israeli city of Eilat and killed seven Israelis.  Five Egyptian police were also killed by Israeli forces who entered Egyptian territory in hot pursuit of the attackers.  This aspect of the attack was papered over by both sides out of fear it could rile Islamist and Egyptian nationalists and provoke further anti-Israel sentiment and violence.

But the Sinai militants have never attacked Egyptian security forces before in such a complex and deadly assault.  It means that the Al Qaeda forces there are stepping up their fight against the new Egyptian regime.  They have inadvertently dragged Hamas into the fight as well as Israel has attempted to blame it and Gazan militants for enabling it.  Hamas reacted strongly, condemned it, closed down the smuggling tunnels (which will punish anyone on either side who smuggled anything into or out of Gaza to aid this attack), and said in no uncertain terms that it would never strike Egyptian personnel and would never use any territory but its own to launch assaults on Israel.

While I’ve dismissed much of the wild bitching and moaning from Bibi Netanyahu about the perils that the Arab Spring poses for Israel, one thing is true: there are forces out there seeking to capitalize on the Arab Spring in places like the Sinai and Syria who may exploit the unrest to open new fronts in the fight against Israeli Occupation.  Ehud Barak has warned that Al Qaeda forces in Syria might try to storm the Golan border.  Haaretz’s IDF stenographer, Avi Issacharoff repeated this warning with a vastly overstated estimate of the presence of Islamists inside the Syrian rebellion.  Tonight, we’ve seen the Sinai militants do precisely what Barak warned the Syrian militants intended to do.

It is a different world Israel is facing.  A much harsher world, one that is a lot more difficult for Israel to control.

I expect that in the coming months there will be a new development in the Sinai.  Israel and the U.S. may determine, as the latter has in Pakistan, that the Egyptian military is hopelessly compromised in fighting the “Islamist menace.”  We may see both Israel and U.S. drones attacking Sinai targets and murdering the Islamists massing there as the former have in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.  Israeli drones have also been secretly attacking alleged Iranian arms supply convoys making their way through Sudan on their way to Gaza via Egypt.  It’s highly probable we’ll begin seeing those Israeli drones attacking Egyptian targets in Sinai.

This of course would be a tremendously sensitive matter.  Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt.  It doesn’t want to do anything to undermine it given that the Muslim Brotherhood is already predisposed t mistrust anything to do with Israel.  But if the Islamists directly threaten Israel as they did in their Eilat attack–Israel, which has a very short fuse when it comes to countenancing terror attacks inside its territory, may feel forced to act.

To those who dismiss my prediction that the U.S. may join in such attacks, it is true that this would be an extremely sensitive and dangerous undertaking.  Egypt is a central nation in the Arab world.  To invade its sovereignty would be a radical new undertaking in the U.S. war on Islamism.  But Obama has shown himself unimpressed with established precedent when it comes to U.S. counter-terror policy.  Like George Bush and Dick Cheney, he’s predisposed to rock the boat when it comes to drone assaults against Muslim nations.  At the very least, we can expect U.S. drone surveillance over Sinai just as we’re spying on Iran (remember the U.S. drone downed inside Iran?).

If any of this happens, it will mark a further escalation in the use of targeted killing as a policy of state and the use of drones in pursuing this murderous policy.

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren has levelled a new wild-eyed claim that Iran is to blame for the Sinai strike.  Just as Israel blamed Iran for the Burgas terror assault and Eilat as well, like clock-work it’s exploiting the “I” word to ratchet up pressure for a military strike against Iran.  Oren, as usual, offered no support whatsoever for his claim, making it about as plausible as the likelihood that the Curiousity Rover is going to establish a new Israeli colony on Mars.

But even if there is a shred of truth to the claim, we could trace back any Iranian support for acts of terror against Israel to the latter’s own covert war against Iran and its nuclear program.  In other words, what goes around comes around, baby.  You reap what you sow, etc.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Nimrod August 6, 2012, 1:04 AM

    what does yesterday’s attack on an Egyptian outpost has to do with Iran?

    • Richard Silverstein August 6, 2012, 1:30 AM

      Why don’t you ask Michael Oren that question. If you’re Israeli, he’s your ambassador.

      • Nimrod August 6, 2012, 5:51 AM

        I agree with you that yesterday’s attack by Sunni terrorists from the Sinai have very little to do with Iran/Hezbullah’s suicide attack on the Israeli tourists bus in Bulgaria.

        But I find your last note, “what goes around comes around, baby”, interesting, as if Israeli citizens are a legitimate targets, like Iran’s military personal.

        Would American toursists also be a legitimate target for an attack as a response to US forces assasinations in the middle east, in your eyes?

        • Aikido August 6, 2012, 12:10 PM

          Who said Iran or Hezbollah were at all involved in Bulgaria? Nice subtle try. The age of disinformation is over.

        • Aikido August 6, 2012, 12:12 PM

          No, and blow back doesn’t exist because Iran has never demanded more than an apology when the US downed an entire civilian airliner (Iran Air 655) and actually suggested it wants reconciliation only to be snuffed by the Israeli lobby.

          Blow back is a fake term used to create the impression that people are militarized and crazy like the true terrorists, the ones who even introduced the term to the world, like other ISMs.

        • Richard Silverstein August 6, 2012, 11:14 PM

          I never said Israeli citizens are “legitimate targets.” I said that if Israel engages in terror then it will suffer terror. I never said that I supported this or wished for it. In fact, I said the opposite. I wish for no terrorism from either Israel or Iran or anyone. But once one side chooses to become a terrorist the other will respond in the same fashion.

          • Nimrod August 6, 2012, 11:55 PM

            I understand that you consider that assasinations of Iranian nuclear experts as terror, while I consider it a legitimate military action.
            If Iran assasinated Israelies woking on some weapons program, I would not consider that an act of terrorism.
            Blowing up a bus full of tourists is not the same thing.

  • Woody August 6, 2012, 2:29 AM

    The SB new about it, the IAF bombed the APC. Seems like Israel is perfectly safe and the government talking so much about this is merely excuse for offensive action.

    • redrafi57r August 6, 2012, 4:14 AM

      Aha Woody, Islamic terrorists kill 16 Egyptian soldiers as an appetizer to an attack against Israeli territory and you blame Israel. How convinient, how tipical, how stupid.

  • Fred Plester August 6, 2012, 4:15 AM

    If the SB had at least given the Egyptian police a heads up, they could have stopped the attack themselves, a squad of policemen would still be alive and there would have been less of an incident. To the people who sent the attackers, they’ve got some headlines and enough political ructions to deem the attack worthwhile.

    From Morocco and Algeria to Pakistan, Al Qaeda seems very willing to exploit religious fast, festivals and pilgrimages to murder fellow Muslims, and this incident was no exception. Someone did once make a documentary for one or other of the British TV channels, in which Algerian Al Qaeda supporters were interviewed, and their attitude was that the majority of Muslims were no more deserving of life than infidel. In short, they pretty much seemed to believe they themselves were the only people in North Africa who deserved to be alive.

    The Philosophy that Osama bin Laden taught always resembled Manichaeism more than Islam and the murder of sixteen self-evidently observant Muslims as they break their fast does fuel suspicions as to just how Islamic the leaders of Al Qaeda actually are.

    In the small area of Afghanistan where the Taliban allowed Al Qaeda to actually run things, soldiers from the UAE subsequently found that local Imans and Elders had been fairly thoroughly brainwashed and were teaching a number of notably unislamic concepts, supported by a heavily-edited version of the Koran. The Arab soldiers found that the “Imans” Al Qaeda had put in charge of the local mosques mostly could not read anyway. While the Americans went round kicking in doors and bombing things, the Arabs tried teaching the Imans to read and providing them with recognizably Koranic literature to read from.

    This wasn’t getting distracted by social work, so much as addressing the root problem posed by Al Qaeda, which is that it teaches an equivalence between good and evil. Israel and the USA consistently over-estimate and over-state the extent to which Al Qaeda organizes atrocity directly, because they can’t grasp that all it usually does, and all it needs to do, is teach people that atrocity is okay and offer a technical suggestions about how atrocities can be achieved.

    The 7/7 bombers in London really had very little from Al Qaeda other than a bit of cod theology saying it was okay to kill people and a download from a website about how to make a suitable explosive.

    I suspect that in this case, the attackers had very little except an assurance that it was okay to murder fellow Muslims as they broke their fast and a few instructions on how to drive the APCs. It doesn’t sound as if there were enough attackers, or that they had the skills required to actually fight a battle using the APCs: they were just required to murder, steal and drive into Israel until they became martyrs.

    For this reason, I doubt that the wider Palestinian movements had anything to do with it. The Iranians might be as brutal, but there might have been more point to an attack which they had planned.

  • G Sherman Cole August 6, 2012, 11:50 AM

    There are reports on the Intenet that Iranian TV has broadcast the confessions of the killers of Iranian nuclear scientists, and some of them were trained in Israel.

    The so called “war on terror” is a gigantic hoax. There is a war on the perceived enemies of the US and Israel, and these states have no problem with the most egregious terrorist acts, as long as the “right” people are terrorized.

  • herenot August 6, 2012, 2:14 PM

    while Oren blames Iran… The muslim brotherhood blames… wait for it…

    the mossad.



  • Joel August 6, 2012, 4:17 PM

    Ambassador Oren lies. Blame Israel.
    Ambassador Oren tells the truth. Blame Israel.

    Blame Israel.
    Blame Israel.
    Blame Israel.
    Blame Israel…..

    • Richard Silverstein August 8, 2012, 12:35 AM

      I’ll accept that Oren lied. But just because he stopped telling one lie doesn’t mean he was telling the truth. If he would try doing so (telling the truth) more often he’d deserve an easier time of it.

  • Boaz August 6, 2012, 5:21 PM

    @richard, as an aside, you seem able to write much more “objectively” (i.e., high-school-like both sides of the story) when covering issues that involve Israel as the victim/target, and not the aggressor. it’s kind of funny to read you lately, you’re getting increasingly “fair & balanced”, lol.

  • Joel August 6, 2012, 5:43 PM

    BTW. Oren took the tweet off his Twitter feed. No explanation was given although senior IDF officers said later in the day that Iran did not play a role in the attack and was not a known supporter of the known perpetrators.

  • yarony August 7, 2012, 3:34 PM

    “open new fronts in the fight against Israeli Occupation” : As far as I recall there is no Israeli occupation of Egypt, Sinai or Gaza. Even if there was no occupation at all other fronts, the forces behind the attack view Israel existence itself as occupation; so the correct sentence is just ‘open new fronts in the fight against Israeli ‘.

    warning to Egyptians: An egyptian general just admiitted Egypt to had prior intel regarding an immenent attack

    What I am curious about is what your take on the ‘automatic’ response by Egypt, Hamas and Hizbullah, to blame Israel for the attack itself?

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