Egypt drafts plans to launch strikes on Gaza terror targets

Drones reportedly gathering intel on targets in Hamas-run enclave; Egyptian general says military losing patience with jihadists in Strip

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, July 5, 2013. (AP/Hatem Moussa)
Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, July 5, 2013. (AP/Hatem Moussa)

In the first threat of its kind, Egyptian security officials on Thursday warned that the military has drafted plans for attacking targets in the Gaza Strip, which are to be carried out should there be an escalation in violence against Egyptian forces in Sinai by terror groups operating from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory.

The warning came as masked gunmen shot and injured three Egyptian soldiers in the northern Sinai Peninsula Thursday morning. The commander of Egypt’s Second Army, General Ahmed Waasfi, said Wednesday that the Egyptian military’s patience with jihadists in the Gaza Strip was wearing thin.

Military sources told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the new Egyptian plans call for attacks on specific targets in the Strip, and that Egyptian unmanned aerial vehicles recently overflew the territory and photographed a number of sites.

According to the report, the UAVs’ mission was focused on Rafah and Khan Yunis, cities along the Gaza Strip’s southern border with Egypt.

These statements were made following Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy’s warning his country could take military action against Gaza terrorist groups last week. The warning was issued in light of continuous attacks against the Egyptian army in Sinai, particularly in the areas of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, also adjacent to the Gaza border.

Over the last 48 hours, the Egyptian army has intensified its operations in the northern Sinai, near Sheikh Zuweid, in an attempt to track down terror operatives. The military has continued demolishing tunnels linking Sinai and Gaza.

According to Israeli and Egyptian intelligence, most of the terror groups operating nowadays in the Sinai Peninsula have some sort of organizational basis in the Gaza Strip. Some of the groups have weapons caches there, while others operate training camps.

In addition, the Egyptian military has specific information indicating that members of prominent terror outfits, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, are hiding in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. One of the organizations, Jaysh al-Islam — the Army of Islam — enjoys close relations with the Hamas leadership.

Egyptian authorities recently conveyed a message to Hamas, saying it must take action against these terror groups and prevent any chance of the situation with Israel deteriorating. Cairo warned Hamas that if it let the security situation with Israel deteriorate, it would retaliate against the organization and its leadership.

The Egyptian army has managed to shut about 90 percent of the subterranean border tunnels, which has further harmed a Gaza economy already weakened by a lack of gasoline, concrete and iron rods as a result of Israeli import restrictions. While limited quantities of these supplies are let in by Israel, the costs of the smuggled alternatives is much lower.

The drastic decrease in goodssmuggled through the tunnels to Gaza has created a shortage of fuel and other products, and Hamas is concerned about possible unrest among the Palestinian population in the Strip.

A worried Hamas is also closely following the developments in (North) Sudan, where authorities are dealing with an intifada-like uprising caused by an economic crisis. The Sudanese government, headed by President Omar al-Bashir, is considered an ally of Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Thus far the riots in Sudan, which started because of a price hike following a government decision to stop subsidizing gasoline, have caused the death of dozens of people. Though they started outside the country’s major cities, the violence has reached the capital of Khartoum.

Israel’s security establishment worries that a similar price hike in Gaza, caused by a lack of basic goods, may precipitate chaos and possibly more attacks on Israel.

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