Israel's security forces received much well-deserved praise for successfully averting an enormous terror attack planned for Sunday. A combination of intelligence, field assessment, operational determination and accurate decision making, together with a bit of luck, managed to thwart the attack within the span of 15 minutes and prevent the terrorists from carrying out their plan — to infiltrate an Israeli town and kill civilians.
The Israel Defense Forces was on high alert for 48 hours, from the moment the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) communicated a warning until the warning signals began to flash wildly, as the terrorists charged into Israel across the Egyptian border. When that happened, a high-speed chase developed, complete with aircraft, tanks, jeeps and infantry. During the chase, for the first time ever, an IAF aircraft launched a missile into Israeli territory, in an effort to destroy the terrorists' commandeered armored vehicle. Two tanks physically blocked route 232 to stop the terrorists, as another tank pursuing the terrorists from behind on a civilian road fired a shell.
The initial investigation of the incident raised several minor tactical failures, which pale in comparison to the achievements. These achievements include thwarting the attack, of course, but also the ability to maintain a continuous open line of communication and coordination between the IDF and Egyptian authorities in an effort to avoid mishaps. Another achievement was keeping the fighting out of the Gaza Strip.
The conduct of the IDF Bedouin Desert Reconnaissance Battalion is also worth mentioning: The Bedouin community is subject to much criticism, but on Sunday Bedouin troops played a key role in preparing, pursuing and ultimately foiling the terrorists' plan. At the height of the operation, the Bedouin commander drove his vehicle ahead of the terrorists to physically block them from entering a Jewish town.
But despite all these positive outcomes, the top IDF and Shin Bet officials were not rejoicing on Monday. Living in the Middle East had long ago taught them that averted attacks belong to the past, and that the real test will come tomorrow (and the day after tomorrow, and next week, and so on). Anyone familiar with the data can tell you of current specific attack warnings in the double digits, at varying levels of readiness, some of which are especially frightening. Some of the warnings pertain to attacks expected to come out of the Gaza Strip, through Sinai, into Israel; other warnings pertain to Bedouin terror cells based in Sinai — like the ones that attempted Sunday's attack. They all share one goal: to target Israel and Israelis between Eilat and the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
Even more disturbing is the level of audacity that the terrorists displayed on Sunday. If entering an Egyptian checkpoint, massacring its personnel, commandeering vehicles and storming the Israeli border is a realistic scenario, then anything is possible. They could use aircraft or ships or try to infiltrate Israeli communities or hotels. Israel has to be ready for anything, and have a prepared response. Along the way, the challenges will be threefold: the intelligence and operational challenge of identifying the enemy and infiltrating its ranks (especially when it comes to global jihad organizations); a shortage of resources, in terms of both quality and quantity, in the efforts to consistently maintain a high level of vigilance along the borders (both north and south); and the peace treaty with Egypt, which prevents Israel from treating Sinai as a hostile entity and accordingly cultivating deterrence and averting attacks.
The final disadvantage is also the only advantage: Egypt. For the first time, a terror attack has managed to penetrate Egypt's denial threshold, and not just any Egypt, but a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt. Israel has witnessed over the last few days the beginning of action, rather than just words, from Cairo. The question is whether this trend will continue and yield results. Israeli officials aren't very optimistic that anything will actually change, and based on our intelligence, the leadership of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is very likely to be in for more embarrassments as future terrorists put Egypt together with Israel in their sights. One can only hope that this shared goal — combating radical terrorism — will help preserve the peace between Jerusalem and Cairo.