An elite Border Police unit is training for the threat of terrorists affiliated with Islamic State infiltrating Israel from across the border with the Sinai Peninsula to carry out an attack.
In an Israeli TV report, an officer said the fear was of cells of 15-30 terrorists, armed with anti-tank and a variety of other weapons. He noted the immense danger terror groups in the Sinai pose to Egyptian Army forces.
The desert peninsula has long been fertile ground for terror groups including the Sinai Province fighters, which has pledged allegiance to the Syria- and Iraq-based Sunni Islamic State.
The Israeli security establishment believes it is only a matter of time before Sinai-based terrorists try to infiltrate and launch attacks inside Israel, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported Friday.
The Border Police unit is comprised of counter-terrorism commandos who specialize in critical operations such as the rescue of hostages.
A profile of the unit on Channel 10 showed balaclava-clad commandos simulating a hostage-taking situation in Nitzana, a tiny desert community some 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Israel-Egypt border.
The unit allowed Channel 10 to film its drill, as commandos entered a house with guns drawn in a simulation of a hostage situation.
“On a day-to-day basis, everything is calm [and] you do what you do, but we know on the other side [of the border] it’s a carnival,” said one Nitzana resident, asked whether he was surprised to see commandos training near his home.
Israel has over the past few years built a high fence with sensors along the Egypt border, similar to those along the frontiers with Lebanon and Syria. But an officer in the Border Police unit said terrorists would try to infiltrate the country nonetheless.
“I am sure that here, somewhere, there are people observing us,” said one officer, identified only by his first initial R. Asked whether the convoy was being observed from the Egyptian side or the Israeli side, R. answered: “Both. They know how to work, these guys,” intimating that smugglers who bring guns and drugs into Israel have accomplices among the Bedouins living inside the Jewish state.
The construction of the fence reduced the number of smuggling operations, but on the other hand, led to smugglers becoming more sophisticated in their methods, he said.
In some cases, a “unit” of up to 20 smugglers splits into groups, with some responsible for throwing drugs and ammunition over the fence, and others solely tasked with engaging any Israeli troops and Egyptian soldiers they encounter on the respective sides of the border.
On more than one occasion, commandos using civilian vehicles and wearing disguises followed the smugglers into their own villages, arresting them close to their homes, the TV report said.
As far as the Border Police is concerned, countering the smugglers serves as training for the day when terrorists try to infiltrate.
The military, R. said, is preparing for a scenario similar to the ongoing attacks on the Egyptian army in Sinai.
“We envision an attack by around 15, 20 or 30 terrorists. They have anti-tank capabilities, they have tremendous capabilities and should not be underestimated. And I know their goal is to kill as many as they can,” R. said.
And how soon could such an attack happen?, R. was asked.
“As I said – it’s a matter of making the decision,” he replied. “They have the capabilities, they have the ammunition. They just need to decide.”