Israelis mourn during the funeral of a 22-year-old soldier at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem today
Accounts of the attacks that killed eight Israelis near the border with Egypt on Thursday paint a picture of an operation carefully planned and executed. The triple attacks, attributed by Israel to radical Palestinian activists from the Gaza Strip, took the army and police by surprise, judging by the ensuing confusion and inaccuracy of initial reports. © Ahmad Gharabli - AFP
Israelis mourn during the funeral of a 22-year-old soldier at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem today
Marius Schattner, AFP
Last updated: August 20, 2011

Israeli intelligence failed to prevent attacks

Accounts of the attacks that killed eight Israelis near the border with Egypt on Thursday paint a picture of an operation carefully planned and executed.

The triple attacks, attributed by Israel to radical Palestinian activists from the Gaza Strip, took the army and police by surprise, judging by the ensuing confusion and inaccuracy of initial reports.

However, Israeli security forces reportedly had intelligence warnings that such an operation was brewing and had deployed reinforcements along the 200 kilometre (125 mile) border with Egypt, according to military sources.

Nevertheless, there were no security forces on the scene when the first attack occurred.

The mass-circulation Maariv daily called it "A warning which did not help," and asked why the main scene of violence, a desert road near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, was not preemptively closed "despite the specific and high-level warning of an attack there."

"Precise intelligence (but) a searing failure," was the view of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.

Media reports said that the Israeli military believed the operation would have required lengthy preparation and logistic support from the Egyptian side of the border, which lies in the vast and sparsely-populated Sinai desert.

Newspapers said that between 15 and 20 gunmen, some wearing Egyptian army fatigues, were believed to have taken part in the combined operation.

The first attack saw three gunmen open fire on a packed bus heading to Eilat, injuring seven people. Many of the passengers were off-duty soldiers heading for weekend leave.

Shortly after, gunmen opened fire on a private car in the same area, killing four people in an incident which security sources initially said was caused by an anti-tank missile but later said was regular gunfire.

Next came an attack on an empty bus, with one of the attackers detonating his explosives belt as the vehicle passed, blowing himself up and killing the driver.

Further gunfire was directed at another civilian car, killing one man. It was only then that the first troops arrived at the scene.

They killed one of the attackers, sparking an exchange of fire with the militants in which an Israeli soldier was killed.

Israeli media cited military sources as saying that soldiers and police SWAT teams, backed by helicopters, opened fire on two other members of the attack force who had taken up positions on the Egyptian side of the border.

They said the two men were eventually killed by Israeli police who crossed the Egyptian border.

After the attacks, Israeli army engineers found and defused roadside bombs planted on their side of the frontier.

As senior Israeli officers inspected the scene, shooting resumed, killing French-born Pascal Avrahami, a sniper and instructor with the elite police anti-terror unit.

Israeli media said that five attackers were killed by Israeli security forces and two by Egyptian forces.

In the late afternoon, an Israeli air strike on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza killed six people, including four leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a violent radical Palestinian group in Gaza.

The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, said in a statement received by AFP that the men were "directly involved in directing" the attacks on the Israel-Egypt border.

But a PRC spokesman told AFP on Friday that, although the group welcomed the attacks, it was not responsible.

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