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Terrorism & Security

Rockets fired from Egypt slam into Israeli resort town

An Islamist militant group claimed responsibility, citing retaliation for the Israeli attack on Palestinians protesting the death of an inmate in an Israeli prison.

By Staff writer / April 17, 2013

Israeli security investigates the scene of a rocket attack in Eilat, Israel, Wednesday. At least two rockets were fired at Israel's southern resort city of Eilat from Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Wednesday, the Israeli military said.

Ran Shauli/AP

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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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Two rockets fired from Egypt's Sinai peninsula landed in the southern Israeli city of Eilat today, a popular resort town, apparently causing no damage or injuries but nevertheless underscoring elevated security threats as Israel faces a regional security vacuum.

Islamist militant group Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on its website, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The group said the attack was retaliation for the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) attack on Palestinians who were protesting the death of a Palestinian inmate in an Israeli prison. 

Today's incident was only the latest of many cross-border attacks on Israel launched from the Sinai Peninsula since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. Some of the attacks have been fatal – a substantial shift for the normally quiet region running along the lengthy border separating Israel and Egypt. 

The revolutions that toppled or destabilized dictators throughout the region also upended their extensive security apparatuses, which suppressed militants operating within their borders and kept Israel's borders relatively quiet for decades, as was the case with Egypt under Mr. Mubarak. 

Post-revolution President Mohamed Morsi has struggled – and largely failed – to bring the vast, largely unpopulated, and mostly lawless Sinai Peninsula, which separates Israel and mainland Egypt, under his control. And militant groups there have flourished. 

Israeli officials seem to believe that the Egyptian government is not intentionally allowing the militants' free rein in Egyptian territory and that Morsi does not yet have the grip on security that his predecessor. The New York Times reports that rather than pointing fingers at Cairo, Israeli officials spoke only of their cooperation with Egyptian security forces and intelligence.

“There is constant and in-depth dialogue with the Egyptians,” Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio after the attack. “Egypt considers any kind of terror to be a threat to Egypt and it is very committed to the peace agreement with us. This commitment has improved and is more intensive.”

Mr. Gilad added: “The rocket fire is meant to kill and to cause panic and to complicate our relationship with Egypt. We will make every effort to prevent this.” 

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon blamed Iran for the supply of the rockets used in the attack. Iran is scrambling to find footholds throughout the region now that it seems poised to lose the Assad regime in Syria and possibly Hamas as well. “The same forces that fired rockets at Eilat also want to topple the current regime in Egypt,” Mr. Dad told Israel Radio, according to The New York Times. “Egypt, Jordan and Israel all want to stop these groups, which are connected to Iran and to Al Qaeda.”

“There is cooperation, even close cooperation, between Egypt, Israel and Jordan, all of whom share an interest in fighting these elements," he said.

Amos Harel, Haaretz's military analyst, explains further how much and why the security situation along Israel's south has changed.

In recent weeks Israeli political and security sources have made positive statements about the cooperation with Egypt's intelligence and army. Although these Egyptians are subordinated to a government controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the improved contacts stem mainly from Egypt's stepped-up efforts to prevent weapons smuggling from Sinai into Gaza and Cairo's pressure on the Hamas regime in Gaza to halt rocket fire from Gaza into the Negev.

But the Egyptian security forces' functioning is limited, especially concerning their control over extremist Islamic factions in Sinai. Therefore Wednesday's rocket fire, at least the sixth such incident in the past three years, shouldn't come as a surprise. A Salafi organization claimed responsibility, saying the attack came in response to the killing of two young Palestinians near the West Bank town of Tul Karm less than two weeks earlier. Whether it was the work of this faction or another small group, it's hard to believe that the Egyptians will deal with them firmly or be able to assure Israel that Wednesday's rocket fire won't repeat.

According to Haaretz, the IDF received advance intelligence about the attack and prepared accordingly. But the rockets still evaded Israel's lauded Iron Dome missile defense system, which is meant to intercept incoming rocket fire and did so with a high success rate during the November 2012 Israel-Gaza fighting. Mr. Harel writes that the IDF has not yet explained why the system failed today. 

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