We need to become accustomed to the new reality that our western border has become a war zone. We still maintain (cold) peace with Egypt, but there is an abyss of hate and terror growing between us and them.
The Israel Defense Forces cannot yet point with any certainty to the party behind Monday's border attack, in which terrorists fired at Israeli contract workers building the border fence, killing one of them.
The general direction is obvious — Gaza — but which group gave the order is not yet clear. Not that it matters too much: All the organizations in the Gaza Strip are up to their necks in terror, in Sinai and from Sinai. Some supply rockets (Hamas) and others supply terrorists (Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees). These groups are joined by global jihad members looking for action and Sinai Bedouin looking for cash — all the ingredients required for a massive border clash.
The worst-case scenario was partially foiled on Monday, thanks to the exemplary conduct of the Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion. Security experts believe that the terrorists who crossed the border and managed to infiltrate some 100 meters (330 feet) into Israel had planned to exact a heavy toll by attacking soldiers or infiltrating a nearby community to carry out a terror attack. They were carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, guns, grenades and bulletproof vests. There is no doubt that they had planned for an extended fight. The death of the fence contractor was only the appetizer, which was supposed to have been followed by a main course. The IDF's rapid response — arriving from both directions, quickly identifying the enemy and accurately neutralizing them (killing two of the three) — put a swift end to the incident.
This relatively positive outcome of Monday's incident is largely thanks to the wide operational deployment of the IDF Southern Command along the border fence. Whereas the border was once patrolled by reservists, it is now secured by infantry combat units that carry out ambushes, man observation points, and battle the enemy where needed. In many respects, the western border has now become the IDF's most turbulent and dangerous front, requiring the deployment of the most elite units.
The IDF is not taking any chances against the new threats emanating from Sinai. The deployment of two tanks to the scene of the attack — in violation of the peace treaty with Egypt — proves that the safety of our soldiers is still the IDF's highest priority.
And still, we must face facts: It is true that the painful price of Monday's attack was "only" one casualty, and the Grad rocket fire from Sinai into southern Israel over the weekend did not injure or kill, but next time this level of violence could end differently. Nobody wants to escalate tensions (not even Islamist Egypt on the day after the presidential election) but the dynamic and increasingly aggressive Egyptian rhetoric, together with the fatal terror attack and Israel's equally fatal response, could wreak havoc with whatever is left of the official peace agreement and the unofficial security cooperation between the two countries.
Three things need to be done right away: Israel must complete the border fence as quickly as possible to minimize the threat of infiltration; we must find direct and indirect channels of communication with Egypt to be deployed during times of crisis, and our military and political decisions must be thoroughly considered to avoid any unnecessary escalation with our large, changing neighbor.
These three things, together with military professionalism and a little luck, will stave off the evil that threatens us from the south.