Also slams UN watchdog's 'surrender' on Iran nuclear probes

PM: We expect ‘exhaustive and thorough’ probe by Egypt of deadly border shootings

Day after Egyptian policeman killed 3 IDF troops before dying in shootout, Netanyahu vows to ‘draw all the necessary conclusions,’ lauds ‘important security cooperation’ with Cairo

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 4, 2023 (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 4, 2023 (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel has told Egypt it expects an “exhaustive and thorough” investigation into the killings of three soldiers by an Egyptian policeman who crossed the border.

“The incident on the border was severe and out of the ordinary and will be investigated to the end,” he said in remarks opening the weekly cabinet meeting. “Israel sent a clear message to the Egyptian government: We expect the joint investigation to be exhaustive and thorough.”

“This is part of the important security cooperation between us, which has existed to the benefit of both countries for years,” he added.

Netanyahu pledged to “draw all the necessary conclusions” concerning military operations along the border fence.

“We will refresh the rules, the operational methods and also the means to minimize smuggling and ensure tragic attacks like this won’t occur again,” he said.

The premier also expressed condolences to families of the slain troops, Staff Sgt. Ori Yitzhak Iluz, Staff Sgt. Ohad Dahan and Sgt. Lia Ben Nun.

Staff Sgt. Ohad Dahan, 20, (left) Sgt. Lia Ben Nun, 19, and Staff Sgt. Ori Yitzhak Iluz (center) combat soldiers in the Bardelas Battalion, who were shot dead on the Egyptian border on June 3, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

The three, combat soldiers in the mixed-gender Bardelas and Caracal battalions tasked with guarding the border, are due to be buried in their hometowns Sunday.

“We are all with them in their deep sorrow,” Netanyahu said.

The Egyptian officer first killed Iluz and Ben Nun as they were stationed at a post near the frontier, then shot and killed Dahan in a firefight hours later during which the gunman was also killed.

The Israel Defense Forces, which has also pledged to thoroughly investigate, said the Egyptian entered the country through an emergency gate in the security fence and appeared to have acted alone.

Egypt has claimed the officer was pursuing suspects in the wake of drug smuggling nearby. It has sought to distance itself from the police officer, with Egyptian officials saying they had been unaware of his intentions, the Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday, citing an Israeli source.

Top political and military leaders have repeatedly stressed the shootings were not a reflection of the ties between the countries, which have grown increasingly close on security matters since their 1979 peace treaty formally ended decades of armed enmity between them.

The circumstances of the killings, which occurred between Mount Sagi and Mount Harif in the Negev desert, remained murky as the military investigated. Deadly incidents on the Israel-Egypt border are rare.

This image taken from video shows an IDF post that was attacked by an Egyptian policeman on the border, June 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The incident was expected to be raised during a previously scheduled Sunday security cabinet meeting. Ministers will also deliberate a potential multi-front conflict with Iran, as tensions ratchet up over Tehran’s nuclear program.

In his comments Sunday, Netanyahu tore into the UN’s atomic watchdog for closing a pair of probes into suspected Iranian nuclear activity.

“The IAEA’s surrender to Iranian pressure is a dark stain on its conduct,” he said.

Netanyahu noted his exposure of one of the suspect sites in 2019, while touting the nuclear archives that the Mossad spirited out of Iran in a mission he revealed a year earlier. He said these files “unequivocally proved” Iran was violating the 2015 nuclear accord and seeking an atomic weapon.

“The excuses that Iran has provided in the years since… are not only unbelievable, but they are not even technically possible,” the prime minister said. “The IAEA’s weak behavior in the face of these failed excuses sends a message to Iran’s leaders that they don’t have to pay any price for their breaches [of the nuclear deal].”

“If the atomic agency becomes a political organization, there’s no significance to its monitoring activities in Iran and there will be no meaning to the reports it produces about Iran’s nuclear activities,” he added.

FILE – This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in Natanz uranium enrichment facility near Natanz, Iran (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Talks to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers fell apart last year, but recent reports have indicated steps to possibly renew the diplomatic initiative, sparking Israeli concerns that a new deal could legitimize Iran’s nuclear activity and erase international support for potential military action.

Netanyahu commented on talks his top aides held last week in Washington with senior Biden administration officials, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. A White House statement on their sit-down Thursday described the meeting with Sullivan as part of “continued discussions” on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and “ways to counter threats from Iran and its proxies.”

“Our alliance with the United States is stronger than ever,” Netanyahu, who has been reportedly angling for a White House visit since returning to power over five months ago, said Sunday. “The security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the US is at an all-time high.”

He also reiterated that along with “continuing the fight against a nuclear Iran,” one of his top priorities is “the effort to expand the circle of peace,” referring to potential normalization with further Arab states after the 2020 Abraham Accords. The comment came amid recent rumors about the prospects of a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“I would like to tell you, Israeli citizens, that even if the public doesn’t know everything, we are working vigorously, methodically and continuously to achieve these two goals,” Netanyahu said.

Numerous ministers were not present for Sunday’s cabinet meeting, having decamped to New York with other lawmakers for the annual Celebrate Israel Parade, which will be held later in the day. Protests are expected at the event against the hardline government’s planned judicial overhaul.

Emanuel Fabian and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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