Sinai Attacks Show Risks in Israel
by JOSHUA MITNICK
June 19, 2012
A deadly string of attacks erupted along Israel's southern border on Monday, leaving at least seven dead and highlighting the strains on the country's ties with Egypt during Cairo's rocky political transition.
In an early-morning ambush, a team of gunmen from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula snuck into Israel and attacked defense-ministry vehicles with building contractors overseeing the construction of a border barrier meant to prevent just such an infiltration. No one claimed responsibility.
Israeli soldiers killed two of the infiltrators, and troops carried out a several-hour manhunt along the border in search of more militants. Israel's army called tanks to a partially demilitarized border area to bolster the response, a rare move given the peace treaty with Egypt, which permits only infantry to be stationed in the border zone.
Hours later, Israeli aircraft targeted a squad of Palestinian snipers in the northern Gaza Strip, killing two Islamic Jihad members. An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were unrelated to the Sinai incident.
There was no immediate response from the Palestinian Authority. The Islamic Jihad said the men were members on a "reconnaissance" mission and vowed revenge.
The day of violence came just days after two Grad Katyusha rockets were fired from Sinai at areas in southern Israel with military bases. The liberal Ha'aretz newspaper reported Sunday the attack had been ordered by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood via Hamas. A senior Israeli defense official, Amos Gilad, dismissed the report.
Israeli military officials have said in private they understand that Egypt's military rulers have been focused on domestic politics rather than tightening control over the vast Sinai Desert. Still, an upsurge in attacks underscored the potential for the security vacuum to destabilize relations.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory for its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in the elections that ended Sunday.
"We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in the Sinai," said Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a statement. "We are waiting for the results of the election. Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt's international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel, and the security arrangements in the Sinai; [and] swiftly putting an end to these attacks."
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. condemned the "terrorist attacks on civilians in Israel from the Sinai" and encouraged "the Egyptian government to find a lasting resolution to the issue of Sinai security."
Egypt's ruling military generals didn't comment publicly on the incidents.