Palestinian terrorists from Gaza carried out a coordinated, multi-layer attack in Israel’s south on Thursday afternoon, in what was the deadliest incident in Israel in years.
The attack began around noon when three terrorists armed with rifles, grenades, and explosives entered southern Israel from Egypt, stationed themselves along Israel’s highway to Eilat, and opened fire on a bus as it made its way down the road. A few minutes later, as another bus and cars drove along, the terrorists opened fire again. The bus – which was empty – stopped along the road, and a terrorist ran up to it and detonated an explosive belt. After IDF forces, Israeli police, and assault helicopters arrived on the scene, a militant fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a helicopter, but missed. An IDF vehicle was also hit by a roadside bomb during the incident.
Meanwhile, terrorists fired mortars at a civilian work crew inside Israel and, hours later, at about 6:45pm Israeli time, terrorists opened fire one last time at forces patrolling the border. When all was said and done, a total of eight Israelis were killed and 30 injured, and seven militants were killed in the response.
The scene after terrorists opened fire at an Israeli bus on Thursday, Aug. 18.
It is believed that some 20 terrorists wearing Egyptian military uniforms carried out the attack. Hamas officials immediately denied involvement, although Ahmed Yousef, the former senior political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, praised the attack. On Friday, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility. Meanwhile, the militant Palestinian Resistance Committees, fingered by Israel as responsible, denied involvement.
Fatah, for its part, responded to the attack not by denouncing terrorism, but by condemning Israel for its counter-attack, stating that Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to explode the region and that Israel has no respect for Palestinian life or international law. Rather, in a press release, Fatah called Israel’s response an act of terror as it, according to Fatah, targeted residential areas in Gaza. This, of course, is not true, but rather points to Israel’s ongoing problem of rooting out terrorists once they run and hide inside Gaza’s towns and cities.
Speaking of the attack, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that, “The incident reflects the weakness of Egypt’s hold over Sinai and the spread of terrorist elements.” Indeed, since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s fall in February, terrorist activity has surged in the largely lawless area of the Sinai desert with al-Qaeda and other jihadist militants strengthening their hold there. Just this week, Egypt launched a military operation to try and regain control over the vast area of land.
The coordinated terrorist attack points to several questions that Israelis and Americans should be asking themselves: What will be the future of Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation? Does Egypt currently lack the will or the capability (or both) to police its own borders? Is Fatah, which denounced Israel for its ‘terrorist’ response, really a partner for peace?
As the Palestinian Authority and Hamas continue to look toward September and their unilateral initiative to declare a Palestinian state, today’s attack serves as a brutal reminder of the dangers that will come with creating one more failed, terrorist state in the Middle East.