Israel border attacks signal weakening Egyptian control of Sinai

Militants killed at least five Israelis in an attack on southern Israel. Israel Radio reported that the militants were dressed in Egyptian uniforms, and fired on a bus and cars from across the border.

Lior Grundman/Reuters
Israeli emergency personnel stand near a bus after it was ambushed north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat August 18. Several people were killed when gunmen fired at Israeli vehicles near the Egyptian frontier on Thursday, Israeli TV said, attacks likely to raise concerns about the ability of Egypt's new leadership to rein in militants along the border. frontier with Egypt.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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.

The army termed it a terrorist incident. "This was a complex and well-planned attack," said Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli army’s chief spokesperson in an interview with Israel Radio.

The strikes appear to be linked to a steady unraveling of Egyptian control over the vast Sinai peninsula since the popular revolt that unseated former President Hosni Mubarak in February.

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.

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