At a particularly sensitive moment in Israeli-Egyptian relations, Israel’s military leaders were caught napping by the June 18 terrorist attack from Sinai on the southern Route 10, in which an Israeli fence team worker was killed. Because they were too slow to catch on to the identity of the perpetrators, those military chiefs misdirected their reprisals at the wrong quarters and so sparked a three-day missile-for-air strike cycle in Gaza.
That slowness of uptake was evident at the different military and defense levels of responsibility – the field command, the Southern Command and the general staff. Above all, the forces under the Southern Command were not ready for action although their sector abutting the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border of Sinai should have been on high alert.
It took three days and scores of missiles from the Gaza Strip before an Iron Dome missile defense battery was finally deployed Wednesday, June 20. The battery immediately intercepted a Grad missile before it exploded in the town of Netivot.
debkafile’s military sources trace the start of the downward turn of events to Monday, June 18. After word was received of a major roadside bomb-RPG-shooting attack on an Israeli team working on Route 10 on the Israel-Egyptian border fence and the death of Said Fashasha, the IDF made every possible mistake.
Instead of waiting for solid intelligence to come through on the terrorists’ identity, Israeli commanders lashed out in every direction.
An unidentified officer decided that the hand behind the attack was that of the Palestinian Jihad Islami. He may have been the same wise guy who attributed to Hamas the double Grad missile attack two days earlier on two southern locations, Ovdat and Mitzpeh Ramon. Some military sources “explained” to Israeli media that Hamas was shooting missiles on orders from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in order to heat up the Egyptian-Israeli border ahead of the second round of the presidential election.
This caused Israeli media to hare off in the wrong direction. Neither Hamas nor the Muslim Brotherhood was actually involved in either of those attacks, but since the information was not corrected, the misapprehension stood and generated more damage.
The field commanders concerned were not informed by the general staff or military intelligence that the Grad missiles in southern Israel were fired by al Qaeda from Sinai. This failure left the command chain in the field unprepared for follow-up attacks from the same quarter in Sinai. The deadly ambush on Route 10 two days later was therefore not linked to the earlier Grad missile fire.
The consequence of this lapse was that when the IDF decided to retaliate, it went after the wrong terrorists – Hamas and Jihad Islami in Gaza – so touching off a three-day missile blitz against a range of Israeli locations and military targets.
As we reported Tuesday night, Hamas posted a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak through intelligence channels saying that it can’t stop shooting missiles at Israel as long as the IDF continues to strike targets in Gaza. “We had nothing to do with the attack on the Philadelphi Route 10 on Monday, and we’re certainly not looking for trouble with Cairo over military action from Sinai,” said Hamas.
The note, disclosed by debkafile’s intelligence and military sources, went on to say that IDF attacks on Hamas and Jihad Islami personnel were unwarranted since neither was involved in the Route 10 ambush.
“If you stop attacking us, we’ll stop launching missiles at Israeli targets,” Hamas offered.
But the next day, IDF carried on striking targets in Gaza, so as not to be seen caving in to Hamas demands.
At the same time, the IDF and the various intelligence bodies, including the Shin Bet, finally put two and two together and correctly assigned the Route 10 attack to al Qaeda in Sinai. Wednesday, a targeted air strike over Rafah killed Ghaleb Ramlath and injured Muhammad Rashwan, two al Qaeda operatives in Gaza and Sinai, who were involved in that attack.
Israeli diplomacy around the episode was completely botched. When defense ministry officials invited Egyptian commanders at liaison offices in Sinai to cross into Israel and view the fragments of the Grad missiles, they refused. They said they did not believe Israel’s version of the episode and declined to be drawn by Israel into any sort of involvement.
Given the turmoil in Cairo, it should have been obvious to defense ministry “diplomats” that Egyptian army personnel would on no account risk being seen in the company of Israeli officers.
By now, the situation has become so bogged down that it is hard to see how the Gaza exchange of blows can be stopped.