Militants carried out a series of attacks on Israeli buses and cars on a highway near the border with Egypt midday Thursday, highlighting the deteriorating stability along the open frontier between the two neighbors.
The coordinated attacks on at least three separate targets north of the city of Eilat, which left at least five Israelis dead and dozens injured, were unprecedented for the usually quiet border region. Surprised by the scope of the attacks, Israel security forces killed at least two militants in a shoot-out lasting at least an hour.
In the ensuing months, there have several attacks on a natural gas line supplying Israel, and there have been reports in the Israeli press citing an uptick in smuggling over the border to Gaza.
Eyewitnesses on Israel Radio reported that today's attacks were perpetrated by gunmen in Egyptian army uniforms firing from across the border, but Mordechai said those accounts couldn’t be confirmed.
No organization took responsibility, but the attacks raised questions about the possibility of involvement of militants from Hamas, local Bedouin tribes in the Sinai, or militant groups with links abroad.
Just last week, Egypt deployed some 1,000 additional soldiers in Sinai after getting authorization from Israel required by the 1979 peace treaty that set up the peninsula as a demilitarized area. Israel has also accelerated work on a sophisticated border fence to replace the porous barbed wire border markers that area easily penetrable.