The terrorists who smashed into Israel at the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Sunday night managed to drive about a mile into Israel, and were traveling at 70 kilometers an hour along the road toward Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, before the Israeli Air Force was able to get a clear shot and blow up their armored vehicle without risk to civilian traffic on the road or nearby.
That was one of the findings of the IDF’s initial investigation into what officials said Monday was a very carefully planned and complex terror attack.
The Shin Bet intelligence service on Friday gave the army a general warning of the danger of an attack at the Kerem Shalom crossing, two days before the terror cell — apparently comprised of Bedouin and other gunmen from the Sinai Peninsula, with close links to and possible participation of Gaza-based terrorists — launched the attack that left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead and penetrated the Israeli border.
GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo visited the Kerem Shalom crossing a few hours before the attack, and ordered a guard tower next to the crossing to be closed as troops braced for the terrorists to make their move. Residents of the area, including Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, were ordered to stay in their homes, with doors locked and lights off.
Initial army investigations of the incident described a coordinated defensive response to the attempted terrorist attack involving the IDF’s ground, armored, and air forces.
Troops stationed at Kerem Shalom border crossing heard gunfire as the terrorists attacked the Egyptian border police position and then discerned the armored vehicle, commandeered from the base, and a truck approaching the border from a distance of two kilometers.
Bedouin reconnaissance unit troops stationed on the border were the first to engage the vehicles after the armored vehicle began bypassing concrete barriers situated along the border road. The soldiers fired on the armored vehicle but failed to hinder its approach to the Kerem Shalom crossing.
An additional army force started firing on the armored vehicle with heavier weaponry. Simultaneously, the truck crashed into a guard tower, detonating half a ton of explosive material.
IDF tanks closed in on the armored vehicle, but the terrorists commandeering the vehicle accelerated away. At that point the IDF decided to bomb the hijacked armored vehicle from the air — marking the first time that an IAF aircraft fired on a target inside Israel. The IAF had to wait until the road was clear of civilian traffic.
One of the tanks fired an additional two rounds at the armored vehicle, blowing it up.
The IDF on Monday transferred the bodies of the eight terrorists killed inside Israeli territory and the wreckage of the armored vehicle to Egyptian authorities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday visited the site of the attack, which Netanyahu said proved that only Israeli security can protect the country’s citizens.
“I think it’s clear that Israel and Egypt have a common interest in keeping the border quiet,” said Netanyahu. “Having said that, it becomes clear time after time that when it comes to the safety of Israeli citizens, Israel must and can rely only on itself. No one can fulfill this role except the IDF and different Israel security forces of Israel and we will continue to conduct ourselves like that.”
Barak noted the eight terrorists killed by Israeli forces were armed with suicide belts and could have wreaked terrible harm inside Israel.
“Once again it was proven here how acute intelligence, a quick response, and operational capabilities, can make all the difference,” he said. “I appreciate that this will not be the last time that we come across attempts to harm us. … I hope that we will have many more successes of this type, but we must also stay vigilant for the opposite.”