Recent events have driven home to Israelis the reality of growing terror threats from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Hamas-ruled Gaza. The danger was on vivid display June 18, when three jihadists managed to penetrate a fence near the border between Egypt and Gaza and plant a bomb in southern Israel.
A few minutes later, they ambushed and killed Saeed Fenafshe, an Israeli Arab from Haifa doing contract work for the Defense Ministry. Fenafshe, 35, leaves behind a wife and four children.
It was just the latest terrorist strike from Sinai. Two days earlier, Sinai jihadists fired Grad rockets which landed near an Israeli military base. In August 2011, a raid near Eilat killed 8 people and wounded 30 more.
In April, three Grad rockets fired from Sinai landed in a residential construction site in Eilat. Also in April, the Israeli military intelligence director, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said security forces had foiled 10 terrorist plots from Sinai during the previous two months.
The collapse of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime last year has helped create a large power vacuum in the Sinai. Since then, jihadists from Egypt and Gaza have joined with alienated local Bedouin who seek to improve their economic situation through cross-border smuggling. The Egyptian military has deployed only a small part of the seven additional battalions Israel agreed to temporarily permit into the peninsula.
Egyptian authorities have apparently "lost control over large parts of the Sinai, and the peninsula has become a no man's land," according to retired Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, an international fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Herzog (whose previous posts have included stints as head of the IDF's Strategic Planning Division and chief of staff to the Minister of Defense) writes that over the past 18 months, Egyptian and Palestinian radical groups "have attacked dozens of police stations, checkpoints, and government institutions there, killing a policeman, while the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline in northern Sinai has been sabotaged fourteen times."
Israeli intelligence believes that most if not all of the attacks from Sinai during the past year were planned by Gaza jihadist groups using Sinai Bedouin.
For Palestinian terror groups, the Sinai provides multiple benefits, according to Herzog. These include "cover for operational infrastructure (including the test-firing of an Iranian rocket from Gaza into Sinai several months ago); a way to disguise the origin of attacks and thus lower the chances of Israeli retaliation in Gaza; and immunity against Israeli preventive and responsive measures in Sinai itself, given the treaty with Egypt."
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