Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said a Sunday attack that left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead should serve as “wake-up call for the Egyptians to take matters into their own hands.”
The New York Times reports this was the deadliest attack on Egyptian soldiers in recent memory and highlights both the tension between Egypt’s new government and Israel and the fact that the attack means an escalation of violence in the Sinai Peninsula.
Quoting Egyptian officials, the Times reports that after attacking the Egyptian checkpoint, masked gunmen stole two vehicles and packed one with explosives. They rammed the border fence and entered Israel, “with the apparent goal of kidnapping an Israeli soldier or civilians.”
The Times explains that Sinai has been neglected by Egypt and this may be a sign that it is “slipping from its control.” The Times adds:
“Armed groups there have frequently targeted the security forces. The problems in the region deepened after the Egyptian uprising in 2011, as police and security officers fled their posts and militants, including foreign fighters, established a presence.
“The killing of the soldiers represented the first security crisis for Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, who appeared on television to offer condolences to the victims’ families after meeting with senior generals and security officials.
“‘There’s no room to appease this treachery, this aggression and this criminality,’ Mr. Morsi said. Security forces would extend ‘full control’ over the area, he said, adding, ‘Sinai is safe.’”
Haaretz reports that Barak said Egypt and Israel were in contact during the attack and Israeli aircraft were mobilized to stop the masked gunmen.
Haaretz adds that Egypt deployed “at least two helicopter gunships” and the Jerusalem Post reports that the country decided to shut down the border.
The Post adds that so far no one has taken responsibility.
“The Hamas government and some Palestinian groups hinted at Israeli involvement in the attack with the aim of driving a wedge between the Palestinians and Egypt,” the Post reported.
The Associated Press reports that Egypt and Israel hinted that Palestinians and militants from Sinai were involved.
“Egyptian officials have said six attackers were killed. A statement by the Egyptian armed forces said 35 militants took part in the attack, suggesting that close to 30 attackers may be on the run,” the AP adds.