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Coupled with the radical Muslim Brotherhood’s declaration of a presidential victory, the latest terrorist infiltration from Sinai has made Israel wary of further instability along the Egyptian border.
Palestinian terrorists on Monday killed Israeli-Arab Defense Ministry contractor Saed Fashafshe, 36, and injured another Israeli when they infiltrated the Kadesh Barnea area from Sinai and opened fire on the Israelis’ vehicles, Israel Hayom reported. Fashafshe, of Haifa, was a father of four.
The same day, the Associated Press reported that the Muslim Brotherhood—before Thursday’s official results were due—announced a victory for its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, in Egypt’s presidential election. Morsi will be the first Islamist head of state since the onset of the “Arab Spring.” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that Israel expects the winner of Egypt’s election “to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in the Sinai; swiftly putting an end to these attacks.”
Monday’s terrorist infiltration—in which a three-man cell broke through an incomplete section of the Israel-Egypt border fence—represented a “disturbing deterioration of Egyptian control in the Sinai,” Barak said.
Columnist Barry Rubin of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) center wrote in reaction to Monday’s events that “we are now at the beginning of Egypt’s involvement, directly or indirectly, in a new wave of terrorist assault on Israel.”
“If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt, a likelihood made less probable perhaps by the military’s dissolution of parliament, this offensive will enjoy official support,” Rubin wrote. “Even if the army remains in control, the Brotherhood and Salafists will use their considerable assets to back this new insurgency war.”
Two of Monday’s Palestinian infiltrators were killed in a subsequent gun battle with Israeli troops, and the third terrorist was either killed or escaped back into Sinai. Later on Monday, the Israeli air force killed two Palestinians traveling on a motorbike in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the two Palestinians were part of a terrorist sniper cell from Beit Hanoun and were not connected to the earlier attack along the border. Palestinian sources said the men were members of the Islamic Jihad military wing.
Fashafshe, who suffered wounds to the head and died at the scene, was on his way to work constructing the fence when his vehicle was hit by the anti-tank rocket. The IDF said there was no prior intelligence regarding a possible attack against fence construction workers in the area.
Israel Radio quoted a defense official as saying that Monday’s border incident was the result of growing pressure on groups of smugglers, terrorists, and crime syndicates as a result of the increased pace of the construction of the border fence. Monday’s attack on fence construction workers was aimed at slowing down the pace of construction, the source told Israel Radio. More than 100 companies are contracted to build the fence along Israel's border with Egypt, with some 1,500 workers employed on the project.
Bezalel Traiber, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Assets and Operations Department, who is responsible for the border fence project, said that 180 km of the 242-km border fence have already been completed. Speaking to Israel Radio, Traiber said there are two incomplete mountainous areas where the work will take longer because of the topographical challenges there, as well as a 17-km stretch near Eilat that still need to be constructed.
“One-hundred and eighty kilometers of the 242 kilometers between Taba and Kerem Shalom are complete. This shows the other side that this business is serious and that is causing pressure on the other side. By the end of July we should be close to 200 kilometers complete,” Traiber said.
Last August, gunmen from Sinai crossed into Israel and ambushed vehicles on a desert highway, killing eight Israelis. Six Egyptians were killed in Israel’s subsequent hunt for the terrorists, causing a diplomatic crisis that ended with an Israeli apology.
Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau head Amos Gilad said Monday that Israel has faith in Egypt’s ability to assert control over the Sinai. “Sinai is a huge territory. There are weapons smuggling routes from Iran and from Libya. Extremist terrorist groups are setting up base there to destabilize Egypt as well as destabilize the Egypt-Israel peace treaty by launching attacks against Israel,” Gilad told Israel Radio.
“The Egyptians are sovereign in the Sinai, we have faith in their ability to assert control there, and to assert its sovereignty in Sinai. We believe they can do it. Israel expects Egypt to adhere to the peace accords with Israel, which is in both sides’ interests. If terror plots emanate from Gaza, that’s one thing, if they emanate from within Sinai, which is in Egypt's territory, it is the responsibility of the Egyptians to stop them. The Egyptians have all the reasons in the world to maintain the peace treaty with Israel, including U.S. and international assistance,” Gilad said.
—With reporting from Israel Hayom