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In first, Navy drills for Islamic State hijacking at sea

IDF forces practice contending with Egypt-based jihadists seizing a boat carrying civilians off the coast of Eilat

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

IDF soldiers participate in a mock raid during a naval drill in the Red Sea on March 31, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers participate in a mock raid during a naval drill in the Red Sea on March 31, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

In the darkness before dawn on Thursday, elite IDF commandos stole onto a boat off the coast of Eilat, and in a flurry of action overpowered several Islamic State ‘terrorists’ holding hostages. The action brought to an end a major naval exercise training to counter increasing threats from jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula.

The exercise was the first of its kind for the IDF, simulating a face off against Islamic State fighters at sea. Members of the Israeli Navy’s elite Flotilla 13 commando unit, missile boats, regional security forces, and paramedics were all mobilized.

According to the IDF, units practiced dealing with several scenarios including the firing of anti-tank missiles and rockets from the Egyptian side of the border and terrorists hijacking a boat with Israeli civilians on board.

The IDF notified Egyptian and Jordanian authorities ahead of the exercise, which was held in the narrow Red Sea waterway bordered by Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

The drill highlighted Israeli jitters over the possibility of an attack by Islamic State fighters, who have waged an insurgency in Sinai, with near daily attacks against Egyptian forces.

The border area saw a series of attacks in 2012 and 2013, after the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, but the frontier has been mostly quiet since Egypt began a crackdown on jihadists in the peninsula.

However, a Navy officer said there were signs that may soon change, citing the downing of a Russian jet over the Sinai last year. Islamic State claimed responsibility for downing Metrojet flight 9268, killing all 224 people aboard.

“There is an increase in these kinds of threats in the last year,” the officer said, according to the Hebrew-language Ynet website. “Our response needs to be fast, as well as in the interface between forces and the police and MDA in Eilat. There are Islamic State elements based in this arena.”

An IDF soldier participates in a naval drill in the Red Sea on March 31, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An IDF soldier participates in a naval drill in the Red Sea on March 31, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The IDF holds holds similar exercises once or twice year switching locations between the southern port of Eilat, the coast off the Gaza Strip, or Lebanon in the north.

To help counter the concerns over terror attacks from the Sinai, the IDF plans to install a sea fence in the area of the Taba border crossing with Egypt to prevent divers from infiltrating Israel via the sea.

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