The statements coming from different Israeli spokesmen this week were not just at dangerous variance with the actual events but with one another, when it came to Egypt’s massive confrontation this week with ISIS close to Israel’s border, a fresh round of Palestinian West Bank anti-Israel terror and the ambivalent role played by Hamas extremists in all these events.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said in an Al Jazeera interview Thursday, July 2, that Israel had “clear evidence” of Hamas aiding the offensive the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate launched against Egyptian positions in northern Sinai Wednesday.
The Israeli commander accused Hamas of giving “weapons and logistical support to the ISIS affiliate.” He added “we have examples of Hamas commanders who actively participated in this assistance,” and named “Wael Faraj, a brigade commander of the military wing of Hamas…who smuggled wounded [ISIS fighters] from Sinai into Gaza,” and “Abdullah Kitshi …who trained operatives belonging to Wilayat Sinai.”
Asked about Israeli-Egyptian cooperation, Mordechai commented: "Egypt is a strong and independent country."
The Defense Ministry’s strategic adviser Amos Gilead was more specific: He said Egypt was “a strong country of 90 million people with an army of half a million.” Gilead was sure that the Egyptians would do everything necessary for a determined war on ISIS.
Thursday, July 2, the day after the ISIS raid, the Egyptian military said it had killed 123 Islamic State gunmen in two days, 100 of which were killed on Wednesday. Egyptian bombers were then described as wiping out ISIS concentrations around the northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwaid. "The situation in northern Sinai is now under complete control,” said the Egyptian spokesman
All three officials were doing their best to put a good face on the Egyptian army’s reverses in its largest battle yet with ISIS, say debkafile’s military sources. No one was ready to admit that the Islamic State’s Sinai branch had won this confrontation on points.
For two years, the Egyptian army has only chipped away at the edges of the threatening Islamist presence growing larger in the Sinai Peninsula, even through Israel suspended the restrictions of the 1979 peace accord and allowed Egypt to bring large military forces, tanks, artillery and helicopters into Sinai for a major campaign to expunge that presence. This has not happened although both the Egyptians and the IDF know the exact whereabouts of the Islamist terrorists’ bases.
Even while playing down the unwelcome outcome of the Wednesday battle, the IDF took the precaution of closing to traffic the main Israeli highway running parallel to the Egyptian border from Nitzana to the southern port of Eilat. The army in the south was also placed on high alert in case ISIS raiders crossed the border from Egyptian Sinai.
Then, on Friday afternoon, parts of southern Israel heard a red alert for rockets which the IDF estimated had come from Sinai, i.e. ISIS, rather than the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials are at their most mixed up when they discuss Hamas – even after crediting that extremist Palestinian group with conducting a fresh surge of terrorist attacks on the West Bank and Jerusalem. In the past week, they murdered three Israelis – David Capra, Danny Gonen and Malachi Moshe Rosenfeld.
Yet, according to the mantra the IDF has taught accredited military correspondents, all Hamas wants is a long-term ceasefire so as to live in peace. They also trot out the official claims that the deadly attacks were the work of “lone wolves,” just as the persistent trickle of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip comes from “rogue” elements.
Israeli officials appear to have lost their way amid vain attempts to let Hamas off the terrorist hook.
Hamas’ own willingness to jump into bed with Egypt, Hizballah, Iran and ISIS – all at once – undoubtedly creates a confused picture about its shifting motives. However, Israeli policymakers must beware of falling into the dangerous trap of ambivalence and loss of focus.
President El-Sisi must realize by now that his army has missed the boat for a resounding one-strike victory against ISIS, because that enemy is no longer alone. Its association with Hamas is further bolstered by a secret pact with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the deadly foe of the El-Sisi administration.
Hamas, as the Brotherhood’s ideological offspring, in fact hosted Mahmud Izzat Ibrahim, head of the Brotherhood;s clandestine operational networks, which run from Libya through to Sinai.
This tripartite ISIS-Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas axis is currently in full momentum. Egypt is therefore in for a drawn-out bloody war.
Israeli policymakers would be foolish to depend on Cairo pull this red-hot iron out of the terrorist fire any time soon. They must find ways – the sooner the better – to grapple with the reality of a rampant Islamic State next door. ISIS is already in the process of overrunning the Gaza Strip; it is on the way to seizing expanding sections of the Sinai Peninsula. That territory will serve as a convenient base for Islamist raids against Israel.
If ISIS leaps further to hijack the coastal areas of Sinai, it may be necessary to fight a major war to preserve the freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal and Israel’s southern exit through the Gulf of Aqaba.