Israeli air traffic to Eilat menaced by Hamas-Bedouin missiles from Sinai
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 10, 2011, 2:01 PM (GMT+02:00)
Israel was merely going through the motions of fighting terror with its targeted killing of Ismail Batash, commander of the "Army of Believers" (a Hamas terrorist front group), Thursday Dec. 8 - an attack which triggered a hail of Palestinian missiles against Israel. debkafile's military and counter-terror sources report that Israel's military hands are firmly tied against effective counter-terror action by the Netanyahu government and Washington, who are afraid of upending the Egyptian military caste's wobbly boat in Cairo.
The little the IDF is allowed to do is meanwhile doing more harm than good: It has hastened the transfer of the Palestinian Hamas' terrorist operational and logistical infrastructure from the vulnerable Gaza Strip to northern Sinai, out of reach of Israeli punishment. It has also strengthened Hamas' evolving alliance with Bedouin militias newly converted to radical Salafism.
The two allies are quickly overrunning the northern Sinai areas evacuated by Egyptian forces, so aggravating the terrorist peril besetting southern Israel including the Red Sea port of Eilat.
This dangerous development, which the Israeli government and security establishment has kept hidden from the general public, has been going forward since Aug. 18, when eight Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack mounted from Sinai on the Eilat highway.
Israel's powers-that-be have stuck to a policy of denial about that event to conceal the breakdown of the security arrangements Israel made with Egypt's interim rulers for the reinforcement of military strength over and above the numbers permitted in their 1979 peace treaty.
The public was told only that the attack was the work of the Gaza-based radical Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees operatives who entered Sinai from Gaza. Their leaders were later killed at their Rafah headquarters by an Israeli air raid, supposedly in reprisal.
However, according to our intelligence sources, the Eilat highway attack was not the work of Palestinian terrorists but of a dozen Bedouin of the Sawarkah tribe, which rules the northern Sinai triangle enclosed by the Egyptian-Gaza border, the Mediterranean Sea and the northern fringes of Sinai's only town, El Arish.
Four of the 12 attackers were suicide bombers. This was the first known instance of Sinai Bedouin, who are traditionally casual about religion, going to this extreme. Three of the bombers struck two Israeli buses on the Eilat highway - one packed with soldiers and one empty as well as a private car. The fourth blew himself up near a group of Egyptian troops and killed five.
Cairo blamed Israeli troops for those deaths. Under the threat of jeopardizing its already fading peace relations between Israel, Cairo backed by Washington forced Israel to take responsibility. This too was unprecedented: Never before in the war on terror has a Middle East government assumed guilt for deaths caused by terrorists.
But this step was part of the smokescreen laid around the situation in Sinai. It left unexplained the comment from Israel's chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz Aug. 26 that the Israel-Egyptian frontier was no longer a border of peace.
Since then, the IDF has doubled its combat strength along that border from two to four fighting battalions.
But also since then, matters across the former "peace border" have gone from bad to worse.
1. With an eye on the spreading Salafism spirit in Bedouin community and the fear of action in Cairo, Jerusalem and Washington, the radical Hamas has moved in on new pastures: It used its iron fist to compel the 100,000 Palestinians of northern Sinai to host a new Hamas-Bedouin terrorist infrastructure, one holding sway up to and including the strategic Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. Hamas command centers, terrorist manpower, training facilities and metal foundries for rockets are now being transferred to the new sites beyond Israel's reach.
2. The six Egyptian combat battalions which Israel permitted Cairo to deploy in northern Sinai to reinforce security there and the Egyptian tank units deployed along their common border for the first time have rushed for the exits. They gave ground to the increasingly belligerent Salafi Bedouin and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami advancing from the Gaza Strip.
3. Most Egyptian troops have also abandoned the 300 border positions and watch towers they manned along the 240-kilometer border. A small number remains, but 100 positions were handed over to inmates from Egyptian jails who were given army uniforms but no weapons and who quickly formed ties with the Bedouin and Hamas; Bedouin, some Salafist, seized another 100 positions. They are armed to the teeth with an assortment of high-precision anti-air rockets Strela-3-SA-14, Igla-1 SA-16, Gimlet SA-16 and Grouse SA-18 – with a killing range of 6 kilometers.
The Israeli Air Force has consequently suspended flights over the Israel-Egyptian border and civilian road traffic has been sharply restricted. In the absence of an air force presence over this part of southern Israel, civilian flights - especially those bound for Eilat - are in danger.
So the extremist Palestinian Hamas and the Iran-backed Jihad Islami have managed to open a second front against Israel in addition to the Gaza Strip. From there, they can strike Israel without fear of pursuit into Egyptian Sinai. The IDF's strikes against Palestinian terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip scarcely scratch the new terrorist infrastructure in Sinai and may even accelerate its development.
The defensive wall Israel is in the middle of building along its border with Egypt needs another year for completion. While a useful barrier for curtailing the flood of refugees infiltrating the country through Sinai for some years, it is unlikely to solve southern Israel's acute security problems.