Israel has suffered multiple terror attacks today, when a terrorist unit attacked vehicles and military units for several hours, along National Route 12, northwest of Eilat. The terrorists were well prepared, with weapons, ammunition, anti-tank ordnance and explosive charges, laid in advance in the area, to engage Israeli quick reaction forces expected by the terrorists. Eight Israelis were killed in the attacks, among them six civilians, a soldier and a member of the Special Police Unit (Yamam). About 40 were wounded, mostly civilians. Five of the terrorists were killed in the firefight and additional two were killed by Egyptian border guards as they retreated into Egyptian territory. The Israel Defense Forces estimates that 15 to 20 participated in the attack, meaning most have escaped.

The was well planned and was designed to contain the potential response expected by the Israeli forces. A series of attacks took place on the mountainous desert road, about 20km north-west from the southern city of Eilat, near Netafim on the Israel-Egypt border.

The short video released by the IDF shows the area of the attack, one of the vehicles hit by the terrorists, along with another vehicle that rolled off the road. The Egyptian border guard post can be seen at the right, few hundred meters from the site.

Around noon, several terrorists crossed the unmarked border between Israel and Egypt, close to an Egyptian border guard post. They took position in the rugged area, dispersed to positions overwatching the road about 200 meters apart, thus preventing effective counter attack by Israeli forces. The terrorist opened fire at an Israeli bus travelling south, wounding several of the passengers. The driver did not stop and continued driving to the nearby checkpoint to report the incident. Civilian vehicles that followed were not so lucky, four passengers on board one vehicle were killed, and a driver of another car was also killed. The terrorists were equipped with small arms, RPG or anti-tank guided missiles and explosive belts. Intensive fire directed at another passing bus brought the vehicle to a stop. One of the terrorists approached and activated his explosive belt, killing the driver. The attack unfolded as two military vehicles that arrived at the scene. One was hit by a land mine or IED emplaced by the attackers. In a firefight that erupted, one of the soldiers was killed. Two terrorists were killed in the fight before they could activate their explosives charges. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the terrorists also tried to shoot anti-tank rockets (RPG) at IDF helicopters that participated in the fight.

In the recent months Israel’s Internal Security Agency (ISA) issued repeated warnings about attacks, resulting from the escalating tension along the Sinai border with Egypt. However, the repeated warnings apparently overwhelmed the limited forces that guard the region. Based on these warnings, IDF units heightened their alert but the probability of terrorists attacking in daylight was considered low, particularly in the vicinity of Egyptian guard posts. Furthermore, a fresh warning received on Thursday morning, indicating on an imminent attack in the area of Eilat, failed to prevent the attack. While Israelis were warned to avoid entering Sinai’s red sea coast, movement along Highway 12 that in parts runs tens of meters from the border was not restricted; even after the first attacks today, civilian movement along this remote highway was not stopped, leading to the serious casualties suffered later in the day, indicating insufficient situational understanding by the forces in the area. A similar problem experienced during the Carmel forest fire earlier this year caused the death of 44 Israelis, caught by raging fire when moving on roads that should have been closed. Earlier this year the Ministry of defense embarked on an urgent program to erect a physical and ‘electronic’ obstacle along the Israeli-Egyptian border, from the Gaza strip to the Red Sea. Thus far, 45 kilometers have been finished, and construction is now due to be completed by the end of next year, rather than the end of 2013 as originally planned. The highest priority was given to the northern part, adjacent to the Gaza strip, where the IDF expected the most likely attempts for attack and infiltration. Therefore, the southernmost part of the line remained open.

Suspecting the attack was launched by Gaza Strip based terror organizations, Israel retaliated with air attacks against known terrorist targets in the area, killing six operatives, among them senior leaders in the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) that was immediately blamed for the attack. The Palestinians responded with rocket attacks aimed at the city of Ashkelon causing no significant damage. The Iron Dome battery positioned at the area succeeded to intercept two of the rockets. By the evening, another Iron Dome unit was also positioned in the area of Beer Sheba, to prevent repeated attacks at the city. In response, the Palestinians fired north, targeting the city of Ashdod. Six civilians were wounded in the attack. The Israel Air Force continued attacks in the Gaza strip, targeting rocket launching teams and ‘terror infrastructure’ targets.

On Saturday the Palestinians fired over 30 rockets at various targets in south-central Israel, targeting the larger population centers of Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Gat, Ashdod and Beer Sheba, which suffered the heaviest attack by a rocket salvo that killid one person and wounded ten. Earlier that night rockets also fired at Ofakim, a township closer to the Gaza strip, where three civilians were wounded. Apparently, the Palestinians are trying to score as many direct hits as possible, by circumventing Israel’s active defense means and inflict maximum damage in this cycle of violence. Interception of one such salvos was airec tonight at Israel’s Ynet online news site:

According to Israeli sources over 70 rockets and mortar bombs were fired at Israel in the past three days. While Iron Dome has intercepted some, the limited means of Israel active defense thinly stretched to protect the area, could not repell all these attacks. After the initial successful intercepts of Palestinian Grad rockets by the Iron Dome in April, the commander of 167th Air Defnse Wing warned of being over confident, saying the system is still not fully operational. He defined the deployment phase as part of the system’s ‘operational testing’.

In recent years Sinai has become a safe haven for international terror groups. Local organizations affiliated with Al Qaeda have also settled in the area, taking advantage of the loose control by the Egyptian authorities, due to the demilitarization agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian control of the area has further declined after the collapse of the central government in April. One of the most prominent Palestinian organization involved in Sinai is the Palestinian ‘Army of Islam’. Since February, when the organization established a training camp near the city of El-Arish in Northern Sinai, processing over 2,000 trainees in small arms and specialist weapon training. The forces recruited among the local populations are expected to be employed to escalate pressure on Egyptian and multinational peacekeeping forces stationed in Sinai. Initial attacks by these forces were aimed at infrastructure assets and government facilities in Northern Sinai.Five attacks were directed at gas pipelines transporting gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan, practically bringing Egyptian liquid gas export to the two countries to a standstill. In response, the Egyptian Army sent 1,000 soldiers reinforced by armored units to secure the area.

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