Al Qaeda fighting elements from Libya are spearheading much of the violence against Israel from Sinai and the Gaza Strip since early June – a dangerous development Israel, Hamas, Egypt and the US prefer to conceal. Deeply concerned, Cairo has just posted its elite counter-terrorist “999 unit” in El Arish, on Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip and along the northern sector of its frontier with Israel, in an effort to counter the newly-arrived jihadis.
Israel also faces a menacing al Qaeda presence on its northern border with Syria.
Reporting this, debkafile’s military and counter-terror sources also disclose that this week, a special mechanism was quietly set up in Washington to coordinate intelligence and military operations against the burgeoning al Qaeda incursion around Israel's borders. It is headed by David Michael Satterfield, head of the Multinational Force (MFO) in Sinai, whose original task was to oversee the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace accord.
Monday, June 18, Satterfield was urgently summoned to Washington after it turned out that the ambush of Israeli vehicles on Route 10, in which a workman was murdered, was a suicide attack by two members of Al Qaeda-Libya, a Saudi and an Egyptian, assigned by their masters in Benghazi to carry out a cross-border attack on Israelis from Sinai.
It was the Libyan al Qaeda wing’s first suicide attack on Israel from the Egyptian peninsula. Washington, Jerusalem and Cairo took it to be the opening shot of a bid by Libya’s warring Islamist militias to extend their field of operations to Egyptian Sinai and southern Israel.
This move appeared to be tie in with al Qaeda-Iraq’s foray into Syria, believed to be part of a master plan, the brainchild of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, for the purpose of creating a ring of fire around Israel from the north and the south.
Cairo was alarmed enough by the escalation at its back door to rush Egypt’s most professional elite unit for fighting external terrorist threats (Unit 777 specializes in countering domestic terrorism.) – even in the middle of the high-noon moment awaiting the announcement of the winning presidential candidate Sunday afternoon, June 24.
The ruling supreme military council was clearly concerned that the anti-Israel violence radiating from the Gaza Strip and Sinai might also spill over into Egypt itself or even touch off strife between the two countries.
According to debkafile’s military sources, the Gaza Strip’s two main terrorist militias, the Hamas and Jihad Islami, decided to stay more or less clear of the week-long missile offensive against (except for Tuesday, June 19). They wanted no part of the offensive conducted by al Qaeda and its Gaza affiliates which had been armed with Qassam and Grad missiles from Libya.
And indeed, Hamas twice called for a ceasefire in the tit-for-tat attacks, after taking the brunt of Israeli punishment. Saturday night, June 23, Hamas spokesman Hayman Taeh announced ongoing efforts to persuade fellow Palestinian organizations in the Strip to hold their fire (“Peace will be met with peace”).
No sooner had he spoken, than 5 Grad missiles were aimed at the town of Ashkelon. All five were intercepted by an Iron Dome battery.
IDF retaliatory tactics have two goals:
1) To force Hamas to rein in local Palestinian Jalalat groups which are branches of Al Qaeda Sinai and obey its orders; and 2) To appease the angry Israeli population enduring yet another battering from the Gaza Strip unaware of any difference between this one and the repeated missile poundings plaguing its homes and lives in the last decade.