IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz on Tuesday visited the Kerem Shalom area, where he was briefed by Brigadier-General Tal Russo on the terror attack at the crossing point Sunday night.
Russo had words of praise for the preparedness of the forces, explaining that terrorists were met by IDF forces in every direction they turned. Russo added that all the terrorists were eliminated, including those who tried escaping the armored personnel carrier (APG) struck by air force assault on the advancing armored vehicles. The IDF commander learned that from start to finish, the attack lasted 15 minutes.
The IDF commander stated that even before the investigation is completed it is abundantly clear that a major disaster was averted by the quick and professional response of ground forces and the IAF.
Despite the words of praise the question remains how the enemy APG managed to travel 2km (1.2 miles) into Israeli territory before being detected and neutralized. One of the APGs traveled south and exploded and a second was heading towards area communities, passing a military vehicle on its way. It was intercepted by IDF tank fire. A platoon commander of the 52nd armored battalion reported that after confirming the armored vehicle was indeed Egyptian and not IDF, he opened fire and stopped the vehicle in its tracks. He explained the APG was traveling at top speed and his fear was injuries to civilians because he was traveling on a road usually used by civilian vehicles and not armored military vehicles.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak also arrived on the scene and they too were briefed by Russo, the southern district commander. Officers of the ISA (Israel Security Agency – Shin Bet) were also on hand to study the attack. The senior minister praised the actions of military personnel as well, acknowledging a major terror attack was averted.
Defense Minister Barak stated “Behind us we can see the armored vehicle that was captured from the Egyptians by the terrorists and brought here into Israel where it was hit. We have here the very manifestation of sharpness, purposefulness and efficiency, first of all on behalf of the intelligence services, the Israel Security Agency (ISA), and the acute operational preparedness of the command. Standing with us are Southern Commander Major-General Tal Russo and Gaza Division Commander Brigadier-General Bachar, as well as the soldiers out here in the field, who responded so quickly, preventing an extremely serious incident.
“The incident that could have transpired with all the explosive material that was brought in the small truck that exploded at the start, as well as the suicide bomber belts on the six to eight terrorists who were in the armored vehicle… there is no doubt that if they had entered a town here or an army bases by surprise, they could have caused very serious damage. Once again it was proven here how acute intelligence, a quick response, and operational capabilities, can make all the difference.
“I appreciate that this will not be the last time that we come across attempts to harm us. I hope that this will be a wakeup call for Egypt regarding the necessity to be sharp and efficient on their side. The struggle here along the border, both the western border as a whole and the borders around Gaza, is against the intentions of terrorists [who attempt] to harm us. I hope that we will have many more successes of this type, but we must also stay vigilant for the opposite.”
In the meantime, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is taking severe measures to curtail the operations of terrorists based in Sinai. Gunships have been based off of Sinai and a manhunt for “militants” is underway as the newly-elected Egyptian leader stated he will make a tenacious effort to apprehend those responsible for murdering at least 16 Egyptian policemen and wounding others, vowing to halt the terrorist activities in Sinai. Egyptian troops are also be deployed in the Sinai area as Morsi is expanding the scope of his anti-terrorism effort.
Morsi called for three days of national mourning following the killing of the policemen.
Israeli intelligence community officials are increasingly concerned over the terrorism originating in Sinai, realizing that since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak that area has become unstable and the once quiet border is not a major security/defense concern. IDF Chief Ganz on Monday morning stated that diplomatic intervention is required to restore the situation to what it was previously. He made his comments while being taken around the area and briefed by Major-General Russo.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)