Until yesterday night, I thought I knew or understood most of the facts of the Eilat terror attack. That changed with Anshel Pfeffer’s article in Haaretz (Hebrew) which reveals a huge fissure developing between Shabak and the IDF over the terror incident. Israel’s intelligence service claims that it offered a very specific warning which named the date and place of the expected attack. Pfeffer’s article, apparently based mostly on Shabak sources, says that the IDF upgraded its security presence on the southern border. But that in significant ways it downplayed the warning and specifically refused to believe the terrorists would mount a daylight attack, and do so near an Egyptian military post on the Israel-Egypt border.
It never ceases to amaze me that in situations like this security forces which have failed miserably in preventing a terror attack have the chutzpah to make a claim like this:
A military source denied Shabak’s claims that the warning had great specificity. He said that forces were increased in the area to the appropriate level considering the nature of the warning. The IDF says that while Shabak does “excellent work” the level and quantity of threats emanating from the south in the aftermath of the fall of Hosni Mubarak has vastly increased.
Translation: we did the best we could and the fact that there was an attack wasn’t our fault. If not their fault then whose? The plain fact is that if the IDF had taken the warning more seriously and flooded the area with personnel there may not have been an attack.
But another important issue needs to be considered. If Shabak did warn the IDF and the army did expect an attack, then that would explain why a special ops veteran/junkie like Ehud Barak raced to the scene of the attack with Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. In fact, the photo that accompanies this post shows Barak laughing along with the police special forces sniper who died during the second phase of the attack only 30 minutes after the picture was taken (thanks to an Israeli reader for supplying it from the Israeli police Facebook account). Isn’t it odd that they are laughing after five or six Israelis have been murdered by terrorists?
So the question becomes: did the Israeli army behave with great hubris expecting they knew everything about the terror attack and precisely how to sabotage it and liquidate the terrorists? And did something go very wrong with the IDF’s prescription? Certainly the IDF made a grave error bringing Barak and Gantz to the site of the attack before they knew all the terrorists had been removed. Because the army was surprised when a second attack began shortly after the big cheeses arrived. This too indicates a major IDF f(#k-up.
Further, it is unprecedented in Israeli counter-terror operations that over one-half the attacking force would actually escape and evaporate into the landscape. Of course, there were issues involving the Egyptian border and Israel’s unwillingness to violate Egyptian sovereignty. But the fact that Israel could not prevent so many getting away by sealing the border indicates yet another failure.
Two questions remain: some pro-Palestinian readers here have made the offensive claim that the attack was an Israeli “black op.” This reminds me of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which I find wacky and beyond the Pale. Of course, there is no argument with the fact that the tragedy is a godsend for Netanyahu. It all but destroys the viability of the J14 social justice movement, which had become a threat to his government. It diverts attention from Israel’s refusal to offer Hamas what it wants to release Gilad Shalit. And it deflects from Israel’s refusal to apologize for the Mavi Marmara assault. It also deflates the PA bid for Palestinian statehood via the UN in September. Any one of these could be a serious threat to Netanyahu. But with a distraction of this magnitude, he’s sittin’ pretty. But that is a far cry from Israel actually collaborating in some way or deliberately allowing its own citizens to be killed.
That being said, what may be possible is that the IDF knew the attack would take place and wanted it to take place, but believed it could find and destroy the operation before it took place. This obviously turned out to be a horrible miscalculation.
Another strange disjunction I reported last night is that while Bibi Netanyahu almost immediately claimed that the Popular Resistance Committee orchestrated the assault and used this claim to justify killing the group’s top leadership in an Israeli counter-terror attack; Avital Leibowitz, the IDF’s foreign media spokesperson told Lia Tarachansky that the army was NOT claiming the PRC was responsible. She would only claim that the attack emanated from Gaza.
All of which means that Netanyahu used the Eilat attack as a pretext to gun down the PRC commanders. In fact, it seems unlikely to me they were responsible because, as I posted a few days ago, if your terror organization is about to mount a major terror operation the one thing you do NOT do is gather your top commanders in the same place at the same time. It only makes you a sitting duck for a revenge attack. So I don’t believe these militants were responsible.
The NY Times is reporting that Israel made the “unprecedented” (this language emanates from the Ethan Bronner School of Pro-Israel reporting though the words were penned by Isabel Kershner, who works under his supervision) concession of expressing “regret” to Egypt for Israel’s killing of three (Haaretz reports, five) Egyptian policemen during the Israel operation in pursuit of the Eilat terrorists. Egypt has replied that the Israeli admission is insufficient. So that puts Israel in the same position regarding Egypt it is in regarding Turkey, where it is refusing to apologize for the murder of nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara.
But what is especially interesting is this passage from the Times report:
By removing Mr. Mubarak’s…dependably loyal government, the revolution has stripped away a bulwark of Israel’s position in the region, unleashing the Egyptian public’s pent-up anger at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians at a time when a transitional government is scrambling to maintain its own legitimacy in the streets.
Mohamed Bassiouni, a former Egyptian ambassador to Israel, called the episode a lesson to Israel about the new politics of a more democratic Egypt, where the ruling military council and aspiring political candidates are eager to stay in step.
“It is very important, because you see public opinion in Egypt,” Mr. Bassiouni said.
He added: “The Egyptians do not accept what has happened, and it means that Israel should take care. If they continue their behavior toward the Palestinians and the peace process, it means that the situation will escalate more.”
What this means is that Israel now faces a formidable foe to its north, Turkey, and a potentially formidable foe to its south. The days of Israeli impunity, when it could act as it wished in putting down threats to its power or hegemony are rapidly coming to an end. This doesn’t mean that Israel will end the Occupation any time soon. But it does mean that Israel’s field of operations is now more restricted than it has been for many years. There is a populous Muslim democracy to the north whose government and citizens are demanding that Israel respect its interests, especially when they involve murdering their citizens. And there is a nascent Muslim democracy to the south whose citizens are deeply connected to the fate of the Palestinians especially those of Gaza which it borders. The times they are a changin’.