Unease remains in Israeli border areas
THEESCALATIONinIsrael’ssouthended almost as abruptly as it began, with no clear winners. Israel lost seven civilians and two soldiers in the terror attack on the border near Eilat. In retaliation, it killed 12 members of terrorist groups in Gaza, including those who allegedly planned the attack.
Three Palestinian civilians were also killed. The leadership of the shadowy Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) was wiped out, but the movement succeeded not only in carrying out the daring attack, but in continuing to fire missiles into Israel.
Meanwhile, Hamas seemed to be losing control over the smaller terror groups operating from within the Gaza Strip,butultimatelysucceededinconsolidating its hold by enforcing a ceasefire from Sunday night onwards.
The PRC fighters spent a month in Sinai, after leaving Gaza through the tunnel under Rafah. Their weapons were probably picked up in Sinai, which, since the Mubarak regime fell in February, has been awash with weapons, smuggled in throughSudanbyIran,orrecentlylooted from abandoned Libyan army depots.
Last week, the Egyptian army raided a workshop manufacturing explosives in El Arish in northern Sinai. At times overthelastfewyears,thePRChasbeena proxyof Hamas,acontractorforcarrying out attacks on Israel, and occasionally a challenger to its hegemony in Gaza. This time they chose to take on both Israel andEgypt,confirmingthefearsof senior officers in the IDF that after Mubarak, Egypt would become a base for attacks against Israel.
For the last 30 years, Israel has regarded its southern frontier as a “border of peace.” Last year, prompted by the thousands of African job-seekers walking across, Israel finally decided to build a new border fence, with electronic surveillance. It is due to be completed by the end of 2012, but until then, unless Egypt seriously acts to restore order to Sinai, the incursions are expected to continue.
THE RELATIONSHIP between Israel and Egypt was further strained over the past week as the Egyptian government accused Israeli soldiers of responsibility for the deaths of five of its border guards during the terror attack near Eilat last Thursday. Israel agreed to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
While not issuing an official statement on the Egyptian deaths, senior IDF sources have maintained that Israeli forces “shot only at the sources of fire on the Egyptian side of the border. The terrorists were using the Egyptian border post as cover.”
The IDF also believes that some of the border guards were killed by the terrorists’ fire and explosive devices. But none of this could assuage the anti-Israel atmosphere in Cairo, where thousands crowded around the Israeli Embassy, demanding that the temporary government sever ties with Israel.
On Sunday, the head of the IDF’s Planning Branch, Major General Amir Eshel, flew to Cairo for meetings with his Egyptian counterparts. The two sides agreed to set up a joint commission to investigate the deaths, but Egypt is already demanding an official apology and compensation.
Meanwhile, Israel and Turkey are still trying to settle differences over 2010’s Gaza flotilla deaths. Prime Minister Netanyahu told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israel would not apologise, but diplomats from both sides were still in talks this week.
“Netanyahu is trying so hard to solve the crisis with Turkey, he hired the leading linguists to find a formula acceptable to the Turkish government,” said a senior government adviser.