Something fishy about Eilat terror attack

Monday, September 05, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

When terrorists infiltrated southern Israel and killed eight people in a three-pronged assault near the resort town of Eilat, it was presumed that Palestinian militants from Gaza were responsible. And likely they were, at least in part.

But the political proceedings following the attack have raised serious questions about Egyptian military involvement in the brutal murder of Israeli civilians.

Immediately following the attack, Israeli lawmaker and retired army general Aryeh Eldad questioned why Defense Minister Ehud Barak was ignoring the testimony of civilian eyewitnesses. Many of those eyewitnesses told Israeli media that part of the Eilat attack was perpetrated by uniformed soldiers firing from within or next to Egyptian army installations along the border.

"I would like to know why the IDF has refrained from questioning the civilians, and whether it is possible that the investigation is being whitewashed and the public is being denied the truth, because of concern over exposing the truth about Egyptian involvement," Eldad wrote in an official parliamentary query.

While the eyewitnesses could not know if the gunmen they saw were Egyptian soldiers or terrorists wearing army fatigues, the fact they were able to operate so near to Egyptian bases suggests that Egyptian soldiers at best turned a blind eye.

The plot thickened on Sunday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered IDF officials to not divulge intelligence regarding the Eilat attack during a routine appearance before the Knesset Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services.

MK Shaul Mofaz, head of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, accused Netanyahu and Barak of a cover-up.

"It is clear that the decision is not professional and involves foreign interests," Mofaz said in an angry statement released to the press.

What is clear is that whatever the government is trying to keep hidden is not an operational mishap on Israel's part. There was such a mishap - the failure to close the roads leading to Eilat after the initial attack - and it was immediately made public and loudly criticized by Barak himself. The only thing most Israelis can imagine the government wanting to cover up is Egyptian involvement in the attack.

Netanyahu and Barak have both stated that they are satisfied the temporary military regime in Egypt had no knowledge of or part in the attack. And that is almost certainly true.

But it is also likely that the largest political force in Egypt contesting the upcoming election - the Muslim Brotherhood - did have knowledge of the planned attack, as it is closely affiliated with Hamas and its allied terror groups in Gaza.

There have been increasing reports, both in Israel and Egypt, that Islamic terror groups from Hamas to Hizballah to Al Qaeda are active in the Sinai Peninsula, and are successfully recruiting from the local population. It would not be unreasonable to think that one of those groups managed to get a few Egyptian soldiers doing border patrol duty to take part in an attack on Israel.

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