Sunday 27 May 2018

Israel braced for border attack by Isil-linked group

Israeli soldiers take part in a training session on the Israeli border with Syria and the Golan Heights. Photo: Baz Ratner
Israeli soldiers take part in a training session on the Israeli border with Syria and the Golan Heights. Photo: Baz Ratner

Raf Sanchez in Jerusalem

Israel is bracing for an Isil terror attack along its southern border with Egypt within the next six months, a senior Israeli military officer has warned.

Wilayat Sinai, the jihadist group's affiliate in the Sinai desert, has been stealing armoured vehicles and anti-tank missiles from Egypt's military and Israel expects the weapons will soon be turned against its forces on the Egyptian border.

The Israeli officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Wilayat Sinai had stolen at least one Egyptian M60 battle tank and had amassed a supply of Russian-made Kornet missiles, which can strike targets more than 5km away.

"It could happen today, tomorrow, in a month but within the next six months we will come into an engagement with Wilayat Sinai," the officer said. "In the next six months they will try to carry out an attack and try to do something against Israel."

If the officer's prediction is borne out, it would be the first attack on Israel's southern border since 2012, when militants in Egypt launched a series of cross border raids.

The most dramatic was in August 2012, when jihadists overran an Egyptian base and killed 16 police officers before stealing two armoured vehicles and breaking through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

One of the vehicles exploded at the checkpoint but the second outmanoeuvered Israeli troops and tanks and raced towards a nearby kibbutz, apparently intent on carrying out an attack.

Israel's air force was forced to carry out an airstrike within its own borders in order to finally destroy the racing armoured car before it could reach a civilian area.

At the time of the 2012 attack, the group was known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the Supporters of Jerusalem, and was linked with al-Qa'ida.

But in 2014 the group pledged allegiance to Isil and to the leader of its so-called caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It took up the name Wilayat Sinai, meaning the Sinai province of the Islamic State.

The group claimed responsibility for bombing the Russian Metrojet plane in October 2015, killing all 224 people aboard shortly after it took off from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Isil claims it brought down the Metrojet flight with a bomb planted inside a drink can.

Israel believes that the group is significantly better equipped now than it was four years ago.

In the years since the 2012 attack, Wilayat Sinai has focused its efforts on attacking Egyptian military targets, although more recently it has also carried out attacks against civilians.

Egypt's military responded with a series of operations that have limited the group's operating space but it remains active in the eastern Sinai. Israel and Egypt work closely together on counter-terror operations in the Sinai.

Isil regularly threatens to carry out attacks against Israel and in August Wilayat Sinai said the group planned attacks against the Jewish state.

"Oh Jews, wait for us. The punishment is severe and soon you will pay a high price," a jihadist said in an online video.

But for all its rhetoric, Isil has so far not carried out any centrally organised attacks on Israel.

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