Israel and Egypt have a common interest in keeping the border between them safe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday during a tour of the site of Sunday’s deadly attack in which Sinai-based gunmen killed at least 15 Egyptian police officers.
"I wish to express sorrow over the killing of the Egyptian soldiers," Netanyahu said. "I think it's clear that Israel and Egypt have a common interest in maintaining a peaceful border between them. However, when it comes to the security of Israeli citizens, it seems time and again that Israel must and can only rely on itself. No one can fulfill this role except the IDF and the security agencies of the State of Israel and we will continue in this manner."
Earlier Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged the Egyptian authorities to "wake up" and take decisive action to prevent terror activity in the lawless Sinai Peninsula.
The terrorists commandeered two Egyptian armored vehicles and charged toward the border crossing into Israel, but were thwarted by Israeli ground and air forces.
Addressing a parliamentary committee, Barak praised the work of Israeli forces in thwarting the attack, saying "vigilant IDF troops foiled an attack that could have produced many casualties."
"Perhaps it will also be a proper wake-up call to the Egyptians to take matters in hand on their side [of the border], in a firmer way," he said.
Israel has repeatedly complained about poor security in Sinai following the overthrow of Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, last year.
A demilitarized Sinai is the keystone of the historic 1979 peace deal between the two countries. But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, jihadists and Palestinian terrorists from the adjoining Gaza Strip fill the vacuum, tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.
Israeli defense officials insisted on Monday that the previous night's attack had demonstrated the volatility of Israel's border with Egypt, warning of continued terror attempts in the area.
Former Deputy IDF Chief of General Staff and former GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel told Army Radio that "Egypt either does not want or does not have the power to stop Islamist terror in Sinai."
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, together with GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo and Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, toured the area of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where the commandeered vehicles were destroyed on Sunday. During their tour, they spoke with the fighters who pursued the terrorists who entered Israeli territory. Gantz said that the entire battle took 15 minutes from the moment the commandeered vehicles broke through the Israeli border until they were destroyed and the terrorists killed.
Nitzan Nuriel, former director of the Counterterrorism Bureau, told Army Radio on Monday that the attack constituted a definite escalation by terrorist organizations.
"There is no doubt that the perpetrators who carried out this attack took a huge risk in involving Egyptian security personnel. This was done by Global Jihad, which is penetrating the terror equation in the region — there is no doubt that this is very problematic," he said.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi addressed his nation on television shortly after the attack, following an emergency meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo. In his address, Morsi declared that the perpetrators of the attack would "pay a high price."
"What happened today is a criminal attack by our enemies upon our sons from the armed forces at a border point, the sons of whom were martyred at that place, while they were taking part in a fast-breaking Ramadan meal. These martyrs' blood will not be shed in vain," he said. "My deepest condolences go out to the families of these martyrs, and our condolences to the Egyptian people."
"Clear orders have been given to our armed forces and police to chase and arrest those who carried out this assault on our children," Morsi continued. "The forces will impose full control over these areas of Sinai. Those responsible for this crime will be hunted down and arrested. Everybody will see that the Egyptian military and police forces can get these criminals wherever they are. These criminals, these attackers do not belong among us."
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