Tension is mounting as Israel comes to grips with the new reality of Islamist Egypt.
On Thursday, a team of 15 to 20 armed al-Qaeda terrorists (members of the Palestinian Popular Committees, an al-Qaeda affiliate) snaked through tunnels from Gaza to Sinai. From there, they hiked 200 kilometers over land, either ignored or facilitated by Egyptian army forces. They were thus able to sneak into Israel through the porous border at Eilat — porous because Israel has not needed to worry much about its Egyptian border for the last 30 years.
At around noon, the terrorists took up positions along the highway and opened fire at buses and cars. One detonated a suicide belt. In all, eight Israelis were killed and 30 more wounded. The terrorists shot to death a family of four who were just out driving in their car — father, mother, and their 6- and 4-year-old kids (“resistance” against the “occupiers,” as Islamists like to say). Barry Rubin counts this as al-Qaeda’s first successful terrorist attack against Israel.
From here, the story gets more frightful. Israeli police and defense forces killed several of the terrorists. They pursued at least two of the terrorists into Egyptian territory. At that point, some Egyptian soldiers either joined in the firefight or got caught in it accidentally — the facts are not yet clear, though a least one eyewitness says a terrorist was firing from an Egyptian army position. Five Egyptian soldiers were killed.
In Egypt, where the public has always been predominantly ant-Israeli — in contrast to the Mubarak regime, which was pro-American and maintained the peace with Israel — demonstrations against Israel have broken out. Crowds are burning the Egyptian flag and one demonstrator scaled the 15-story wall of the Israeli embassy, tore down the Israeli flag, and replaced it with an Egyptian flag. (Powerline has pictures, here.) Obviously trying to simmer things down, Israel’s government has expressed regret over the killing of the Egyptian soldiers, but Egypt’s transitional military government — egged on by the protests — is saying this expression of regret is “insufficient.”
As is always the case, Palestinians are celebrating the terrorist attacks that killed Israelis — not only in Hamas-controlled Gaza but in the West Bank, where the “moderates” of Fatah are in charge. As Barry Rubin elaborates, “One Fatah site has such remarks as ‘Our Lord is with the heroes’; ‘[I] call for resistance in the Gaza with rocket fire and suicide bombings and the Glory of God and His Messenger’; ‘Tribute to the Heroes of each attack and no matter what their affiliation’; ‘God is great and victory is coming!’”
So to recap as we head into September, with the Muslim Brotherhood poised to take over Egypt and the Palestinians — encouraged by Israel’s enemies at the U.N. — poised to declare statehood unilaterally, we have al-Qaeda now active in Israel; a successful terrorist attack inside Israeli territory through Egypt; Israel and Egypt in a faceoff over the killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israel after those soldiers allowed (and perhaps even facilitated) an attack on Israel; and the Palestinians — with whom Israel is expected to make peace — celebrating the murder of a Jewish family and the killing of other Israelis.
John Hinderaker has been following events closely, and his posts are here and here. Barry Rubin’s analysis is here. As Barry says, “This isn’t just another terrorist attack — it’s a major escalation, a new phase in the Arab-Israeli conflict . . . it is the bitter fruit of the U.S.-backed downfall of the government of President Husni Mubarak in Egypt, opening the Egypt-Israel border as a new front in the war.”