Today’s attacks in southern Israel in which gunmen killed eight people were clearly carefully planned. It seems reasonable to assume that as much attention was given to the attacks’ timing.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said seven people were killed along the road, just meters from the border with Egypt. The military put the number of wounded at around 25.
Israeli special forces were called in and engaged the gunmen as police and the military closed roads around Eilat, a popular Red Sea resort. The military said between two and four gunmen were killed. Israeli media reports said up to seven were killed.
The Israeli government was swift to assign responsibility for the attacks as spokesman Mark Regev said Israel “has specific and precise information that these terrorists who targeted Israelis today came out of the Gaza Strip.”
Israeli security officials had been tracking the militants from the Gaza Strip, where plans were laid for the attack, into the lawless Sinai desert that since the fall of Hosni Mubarak has offered a more and more accessible back door to Israel. But somehow, the militants found a way to strike first, killing seven Israelis on a lonely desert highway.
“It wasn’t supposed to end this way,” a senior Israeli intelligence officer tells TIME. “And now we have to find out why it didn’t end the way it should have.”
Retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza today were aimed at members of the Popular Resistance Committees. Reports on Twitter describe ongoing Israeli missile strikes on multiple locations across Gaza.
One of the other immediate results of the attacks was that J14 protests scheduled to take place across Israel were cancelled. That decision was then reversed and Saturday night’s main rally in Tel Aviv will take the the form of a quiet memorial march with torches and candles.
Will this be the moment at which Israelis once again close ranks as they find solidarity through opposition to a common enemy? In other words, is the J14 movement about to fizzle out?
If every act of terrorism can be regarded as a form of bloody political theater, it’s hard to imagine that the organizers of this performance would have been oblivious about who happened to be in the audience at this time. A group of Republican members of Congress is visiting Israel this week, with another batch scheduled to arrive this weekend, Politico notes.
No doubt many of the visiting Americans will have exceptionally harsh words for one of their colleagues upon their return to Washington. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s effort to apply sanctions against Israeli special forces units accused of human rights violations, now looks particularly badly timed.
Just as Benjamin Netanyahu felt that the 9/11 attacks were good for Israel, it’s hard not to believe that he must feel that today’s attacks are good for his government.
And just in case anyone in Turkey still holds out any hope that Israel might apologize for murdering nine of its citizens just over a year ago, today’s events will merely make this week’s refusal even more emphatic.
Meanwhile, Hamas is cooperating with the Egyptian government in an effort to shut down an al Qaeda affiliate based in Gaza.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reports:
Hamas has responded to Egypt’s request to crack down on the Army of Islam and prevent its forces from infiltrating through the tunnels into Egypt.
A security source said clashes took place on Wednesday between Hamas and the Army of Islam in Gaza in a bid to capture their leader Mumtaz Daghmash, who is accused of carrying out bombings and terrorist attacks in Egypt.
Hamas met on Wednesday with officials of the Egyptian intelligence service to agree on border control measures with a view to preventing attacks by elements of the Army of Islam and the Jaljalat organization, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
The Egyptian military and police sent a large number of special forces troops into North Sinai a week ago in an effort to crack down on armed criminal gangs and insurgents in the peninsula. The initiative, named Operation Eagle, saw Egyptian army tanks and troops deployed to the streets of Sinai towns for the first time since the 1970s.
Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai Peninsula arrested 20 people, including Palestinians, suspected of involvement in attacks on police stations and a natural gas pipeline to Israel, the state-run Middle East News Agency said.
Some of the suspects belong to “jihadi cells,” and others are accused of criminal activities, MENA reported today, citing Saleh el-Masri, the Northern Sinai security chief, as saying. Those arrested include Egyptians from other provinces who have been recruited and sent to Sinai, it reported.
Violence in Sinai since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak prompted security forces to conduct an operation to capture “criminals and extremists” in the peninsula, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper said on Aug. 16. Egyptian gas supplies to Israel were disrupted after four attacks on the pipeline network from Feb. 5 to July 12.
El-Masri said forces discovered a workshop that manufactures explosive devices, explosive belts and landmines, MENA reported. He stressed the importance of the cooperation of tribal leaders in the area with the army and other forces to restore security in Sinai, it said.