Israeli warplanes attacked suspected terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip today, just hours after terrorists infiltrated into southern Israel to carry out a series of coordinated attacks that killed seven Israelis and wounded dozens of others.
As many as six Palestinians – including the chief of the Popular Resistance Committees – were reportedly killed in the Israeli attack on the Gaza city of Rafa. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Ganz that Israel targeted that area because it is “where we believe the planners of the attack are based.”
Israeli media reports said the PRC was responsible for the terrorist attacks earlier in the day near the Israeli Red Sea resort city of Eilat.
Former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said the terrorists came from Gaza and crossed through the Sinai in order to enter Israel. He told The Jewish Week that such an attack was inevitable because the Egyptian rulers who took control of the country after the ouster in February of President Hosni Mubarak “were not controlling the Sinai with a strong hand” as Mubarak had done.
Sneh said the terrorists belong to a “jihadist organization” that may be affiliated with al-Qaeda.
“This is a well known organization that existed for years and they were allowed to act under the Hamas regime,” Sneh said, referring to the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
“Immediately when the events in Egypt started [in January] I called on my government to seize the Egyptian-Gaza border because I anticipated this would happen,” he pointed out.
The Israeli reprisal attack was widely anticipated. The United Nations evacuated its foreign personnel from Gaza, and Hamas terrorists reportedly evacuated police stations and went into hiding.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement saying his organization was “horrified and outraged” by the terrorist attacks. He said the terrorists’ decision to exploit the “reduced presence and attention of Egyptian security forces in the Sinai” highlights a new security dynamic confronting Israel.
“Israel has no choice but to once again respond to wanton terror attacks on its soil in order to protect Israeli civilians and deter terrorists,” he said.
Arnon Soffer, a professor at Haifa University who specializes in Israel’s geography, recalled that today’s terror attack came one year after terrorists in Gaza fired missiles at Eilat without causing any damage. He said that now that “the Egyptian government is weakening, terrorists almost control Sinai.”
Soffer said that he called for the construction of a fence to keep terrorists from entering Israel from the Sinai. Such a fence has been started, he noted, and is to take at least another year to complete.
“Hopefully it will close the border from the Philadelphi corridor [the narrow strip of land between the Egyptian and Gaza border] and Eilat,” Soffer said. “They could still fire shells over the border but hopefully they would not be able to cross as they did this time. This was a real disaster.”
He added that even though Hamas was not responsible for the attack, it must pay the price.
“I don’t care if it is group two or group three who did it, we will blame Hamas because it is responsible for that area.”
Soffer said the attack would “put another spike in the wheel” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is planning to ask the United Nations General Assembly next month to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.
He was referring to the fact that there is opposition to the move within the Palestinian Authority itself and that Hamas is also strongly opposed to Abbas’ plan. A Damascus-based Hamas official was quoted last month as saying that Abbas’ decision is an “individual step” that was not coordinated with other Palestinian factions.
“A Palestinian state should be extracted and not begged for,” the official said. “The resistance is the only way for the Palestinians to extract their rights and liberate their land and establish their state.”
The terrorist attack in Israel struck at least six military and civilian targets over the course of several hours was a “very courageous and sophisticated operation,” according to Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He noted that although the current Egyptian government has not been as vigilant in controlling the Sinai as the Mubarak regime had been, it did dispatch two battalions of about 800 soldiers to the Sinai in January in an attempt to “restore law and order” and protect the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel. Despite that, the pipeline has been repeatedly blown up.
“The Sinai is very big but there was a warning from the Israeli security forces that something was going to happen and that it was going to happen from the Gaza Strip into Sinai,” Maoz said. “But they didn’t know the exact location and the border is hundreds and hundreds of miles long.”