The Egypt border attack: Key questions

Egypt’s initial claim, that the terrorist had entered Israeli territory in pursuit of drug smugglers, is unconvincing.

By Yaakov Lappin, JNS

There are several critical questions that the joint Israeli-Egyptian investigation into the deadly terrorist attack on the two countries’ shared border on Saturday must address.

During the incident, which lasted several hours, three Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed by an Egyptian police officer. The first two were killed at around 6:00 a.m., according to the IDF, and the third some two hours later, during a shootout that broke out after back-up forces arrived to search for the gunman.

Israeli forces led by the regional brigade commander killed the gunman soon afterwards.

The first key question is whether the terrorist, who was armed with an AK-47, acted on his own, or as a member of a larger terrorist group that has infiltrated Egypt’s security forces.

Egypt’s initial claim, that the terrorist had entered Israeli territory in pursuit of drug smugglers, is unconvincing, and reflects pressure within Egypt to smooth over the incident with a convenient narrative rather than attempt to ascertain the facts.

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It is fair to assume that Israel has made it clear, behind closed doors, that this explanation is illogical and unacceptable in light of the assailant’s conduct; he remained in Israeli territory for two hours after the initial shooting, before he again fired on Israeli forces.

The second question must address the role that a significant drug smuggling run, which occurred at 2:30 a.m. that same night, and in the same area, may have played in the attack.

Both incidents occurred in the desolate Mount Harif border region, and the attempt to smuggle some 1.5 million shekels’ worth ($400,000) of narcotics into Israel, at the same time as the attack is unlikely to have been a coincidence.

Was the smuggling run, which the IDF thwarted, an attempt to distract the military?

A third question that needs to be given consideration is whether the attack was the result of a jihadist-Islamist group seeking to undermine the ongoing security cooperation at the border between the Israeli and Egyptian militaries.