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From Sinai To 'Afghanistan'

Prime Minister Netanyahu: 'The People Who Planned Sinai Terror Attack Are No Longer Alive - Israel Will Exact A Very Heavy Price!'

Former Ambassador Zvi Mazel: 'Iran & Radical Islamists Seek To Turn Sinai Into No Man's Land They Can Exploit Like Taliban In Afghanistan'

IsraCast Assessment: Israel Has No Alternative But To Do What It Takes To Suppress Palestinian Terrorism From Gaza Or Sinai - If Rocketing Continues, Israel will Hit Back Harder

 Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo warns that Iran and Radical Islamists are trying to turn Egyptian controlled Sinai into an 'Afghanistan' dominated by Taliban. In the diplomat's view, the Egyptian leadership now recognizes the threat to Egypt; the question is whether they have the will to confront the danger. IsraCast analyst David Essing assesses various aspects in the wake of the deadly Palestinian terror attack that killed eight Israelis and wounded thirty-one others.

 The bottom line of the current confrontation.. Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo warns that Iran and radical Islamists including al Qaida are plotting to turn Sinai into an 'Afghanistan' which they could dominate like the Taliban. Mazel points to the persistent Iranian smuggling operations of missiles and weapons via Sudan and Sinai to Gaza. Al Qauda also recognizes that Sinai could also be a fertile area for their operations. What has happened since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak is that the Egyptian military leadership is preoccupied with trying to maintain control of Egypt and this anarchy has been exploited by Iran and the radical Islamists. Egypt now realizes the danger of anarchy in Sinai and may be ready to confront the threat.

What can be said about the Palestinian terror attacks that killed eight Israelis and injured thirty-one others? Simply this - it is the calling card of the future Palestinian state that is slated to be recognized by the UN General Assembly in September. But there are those who will retort: 'Hold on, the terrorists from Sinai were the 'bad guy' Palestinians, don't forget the Palestinian 'good guys' such as President Mahmoud Abbas who rejects violence against Israel. If so, how come Abbas recently signed a 'reconciliation' accord with Hamas that rules Gaza and from where the terrorists set out on their mission. And make no mistake, the estimated twenty or so members of the force could not have planned, financed and executed the mission without the green light from Hamas.So after making their way through Sinai, the gunmen took up position near an Egyptian outpost to massacre four people in a car with an anti-tank missile as well as machine gunning several other cars and a bus as well as blowing up a second bus.

Quite a day's work for the future Palestinian state pleading its case to be recognized by the UN family of 'peace loving states'. It was a miracle that only eight Israelis were killed by the Palestinian state in the making - a hybrid comprised of the non-violent West Bank with terror driven Gaza that seeks the annihilation of another UN member state -Israel. How will this jibe with Article 18 in the UN Charter that requires with a new member refers to a new member presenting 'recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security'? As things now stand, the proposed Palestinian state will be half genocidal. But that is not likely to cut any ice with the automatic pro-Arab bloc that appears bent on recognizing a Palestinian state, even if it comes with terrorist trappings. But such a moral oxymoron has never bothered the UN where Libya's Col. Gadaffi and Syria's President Assad could serve as bona fide members of the so-called Human Rights Council.

Staff Sgt. Moshe Naftaly who was killed while trying to assist an attacked civilian

Egypt is another factor in the bigger picture of the 'Arab Spring' that was hailed by many as a promising step toward democracy. At the time, some commentators ridiculed the Jewish state for being so jittery over what type of regime would take control in Cairo after Mubarak, who had kept the peace. What is now abundantly clear is that the current Egyptian junta has only a flimsy control of Sinai - a virtual no-man's land where Bedouin gangs and even al-Qaida are beginning to rule the roost. So much so, that Israel agreed that the Egyptian army deploy some 250 tanks and armored personnel carriers in Sinai, which was demilitarized by the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. But Sinai is a vast area and the Egyptians have been primarily concerned with protecting their gas pipeline to Jordan and Israel that has been sabotaged five times over the past year. So the terrorists in Gaza, in this case the Popular Resistance Committees that are known to have close ties with Hamas, simply attacked from across the Egyptian border in order not to provoke an Israeli retaliation against Gaza.

However, the Shabak secret service was keeping close tabs on the Popular Resistance plot. Israel Radio reported that the intelligence service had tailed the terrorist team after it left Gaza for the Eilat area to the south. Recently, the Israeli authorities issued a stern travel warning against visiting Sinai, a very popular tourist site for Israelis. However, although Israeli security was monitoring the terrorists' movements they co0uld not take action inside Egyptian controlled Sinai. And one day before the attack, when the terrorist threat posed such a clear and present danger, a SWAT unit of the Israeli Police and IDF reinforcements were deployed to the Egyptian frontier which is almost completely open. (Israel is now building a security fence that was originally planned to prevent thousands of Africans from entering Israel in search of jobs.)

Israel-Egypt border

There are two routes from the center of Israel to the Red Sea resort of Eilat - either by the main Arava Highway far from the Egyptian border or by Highway 12 that is shorter but runs right along the frontier. For whatever reason, although the Shabak had reached the conclusion that a terrorist attack from Sinai was imminent, no warning was issued to travelers against using Highway 12 that was left open. If the security forces tried to guess where the terrorists might strike, they apparently guessed wrong. Reportedly, they decided the terrorists would prefer to attack under the cover of darkness and would not do so from near an Egyptian army position. They were wrong on both counts.

Interviewed on Israel Radio, Kadima Knesset Member Avi Dichter, a former Shabak director, criticized the fact that eight Israelis were killed and thirty-one others injured although there was a clear intelligence warning that the terrorists were about to strike from Sinai. In his words: 'This should not be the result of such an intelligence alert!' In his view, Israel must hold Hamas responsible for all terror attacks emanating from Gaza whether or not Hamas accepts the responsibility. In the same vein, the new Egyptian regime must also be held to account for preventing cross border attacks from Sinai. Dichter revealed that even during the Mubarak era, the Egyptian authorities were mostly concerned about the rise of radical Islam in Sinai and 'closed one eye when it came to Palestinian attacks on Israel. However, now the Egyptian leaders appear to have closed both eyes and they should be called to account'. (On this score, the Egyptian Chief of Staff Sami Hafez Anan has paid an urgent visit to the sight of the attacks after declaring that no Egyptian forces had assisted the Palestinian attackers. One news report has now spoken of an armed clash between Egyptian troops and terrorists inside Sinai. Egyptian troops were said to have arrested twenty-two suspects in new combing operations). Dichter also made the point that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must also be held accountable for terrorism from Gaza, now that he is in cahoots with Hamas which probably represents more Palestinians than does the West Bank leader.

However the beefed security presence in the area aided in tracking down and killing the attackers. The fact that at least one terrorist opened fire from near an Egyptian army outpost led to conjecture that Egyptian troops were involved in the attack, but Israeli officials have indicated the terrorists dressed in Egyptian uniforms apparently to move more freely in Sinai.

Within five hours or so of the deadly attacks, Israeli aircraft killed the terrorist leaders of the attack in a pin point strike on a building in the Gaza town of Rafa from where they were monitoring the operation. At a Tel Aviv news conference, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was able to announce: 'The people who planned this attack are no longer alive - the terrorists will pay a very heavy price!' For its part, Hamas has categorically denied any responsibility for the assault warning that it will retaliate severely if Israel hits Gaza, this obviously would mean a massive wave of rocket attacks on Israeli towns over the border. On the night of the attack, missiles were launched from Gaza at the town of Ashdod but they were knocked out by Israel's new ' Iron Dome' missile defense system.

Although questions are being asked about Israel's preparedness along the border, the Shabak intelligence gathering was indeed remarkable. Within five hours, it supplied the exact location of the leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees who had planned the operation. Israeli aircraft carried out a pin point strike killing the four top leaders in a building where they had gathered apparently to celebrate the terror attack. It enabled Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to declare: 'I have set a principle: when Israeli citizens are attacked we respond immediately and with force. This principle has just ben enforced. The people who gave the order to murder our people and hid in Gaza are no longer alive. ...If the terror organizations think they can attack our citizens with impunity they will discover that Israel will exact a price, a very high price'. Throughout the night, Israeli aircraft bomber a number of terrorist targets in Gaza while the Palestinians launched rockets at Israeli towns over the border. Nearly all the rockets were intercepted inflight by Israel's new ' Iron Dome' anti- missile system or landed harmlessly in open areas. But the day after in Ashdod, six civilians were injured by a GRAD missile, two men were in serious condition. (These bigger, longer range weapons are just the type the terrorists would love to smuggle in by sea, if the Israeli Navy did not impose the blockade of Gaza.)

Snapshot of evolving situation:

1. Palestinian terrorists have seriously escalated situation and Israel has no alternative but to respond in force. Palestinians have initiated, the IDF will be ordered to finish. It may not be in Hamas's interests to escalate but it is backing 'rogue' terrorists leading to vicious circle of violence. In the past, Mubarak's Egypt often acted as a mediator in defusing the situation but today there may be no such Egyptian option.

2. Almost overnight, Sinai has turned into possibly the most dangerous frontier for Israel after the fall of the Mubarak regime. Israel's strategic planners must now reevaluate this threat and build a serious defense network along the 230 kilometer frontier. Concurrently, the current construction of the security fence will be sped up while Highway 12 will be closed indefinitely.

3. In the international arena, the Palestinian attacks have been roundly condemned although Lebanon and its Hizbullah government have blocked a unanimous UN Security Council condemnation.

4. On the local scene, the campaign of social unrest that has dominated the headlines will now on the back burner. Subsequently all the conjecture about slicing Israel's massive defense budget will likely be put to rest. In fact, one of the reasons the Sinai security fence has not been completed is due to lack of funding.

David Essing

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