The initial Egyptian and Israeli accounts of the attacks in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed and the Israeli border crashed Sunday night, Aug. 5, don’t match up: Egypt points the finger at the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip; Israel at Sinai Salafits. debkafile postulates a third option: Tehran put Gaza Strip Islamists and/or Palestinian proxies together with a Sinai al Qaeda cell for a coordinated attack on Egyptian and Israeli military targets to avenge the presence of al Qaeda in the anti-Assad revolt in Syria under the Western-Arab aegis. That would signal the spillover of the Syrian crisis into two more Middle East countries.
The gunmen first stormed an Egyptian commando post in Sinai with bombs, grenades and sidearms, killing at least 16 Egyptian soldiers, wounding many more and taking several hostages. A quantity of weapons and two armored vehicles were seized.
According to Egyptian sources, all ten gunmen infiltrated Sinai from the Gaza Strip through the smuggling tunnels. They were disguised as Sinai Bedouin.
In contrast, the Israeli military spokesman tagged the gunmen as Sinai Salafist Bedouin tied to al Qaeda. He denied there was any connection with the IDF’s targeting of two Popular Resistance Committees earlier Sunday after they were identified as the perpetrators of the June 18 shooting of an Israeli border fence workman.
The IDF also claimed it had been forewarned of the plot to attack the Kerem Shalom terminal opposite the Egyptian post and were therefore prepared for the gunmen’s incursion aboard two captured Egyptian vehicles for the purpose of snatching Israeli soldiers. Israel bombed the vehicle that got through from the air and by artillery. Seven terrorists were gunned down as they fled. There were no Israeli casualties.
The army spokesman did not indicate whether the Egyptians had also been forewarned.
The IDF version, if it is correct, exposes the most ambitious operation al Qaeda has ever mounted from Sinai. The jihadists, even in their biggest outrages in Iraq and Afghanistan – or Syria today – rarely carried through an operation this complex against one military base after another in two different countries.
Its features do, however, recall Palestinian terrorist strikes on Israeli military positions in the Gaza Strip at the height of their 2000-2003 war on Israel. In that sense, the Egyptian version pointing to Gaza as the source rings true. And indeed, the enclave’s Hamas rulers hastened to condemn the attack and block the Gaza-Sinai smuggling tunnels first thing Monday, Aug. 6, and a Hamas leader, Mahmoud A-Zahar, admitted Palestinians may have been complicit.
Neither Israel nor Egypt has mentioned a third option, which in the view of debkafile’s counter-terror analysts is the most sinister of them all, namely that Iran’s proxy in the enclave, the Palestinian Jihad Islami, which operates under the command of the Al Qods Brigades operations center in Beirut, was told to muster al Qaeda jihadists in Sinai for the coordinated attacks. Iranian officers posted in Beirut would then have orchestrated the combined operation, bringing to bear their long experience of setting up terrorist campaigns against Western and Arab targets – Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004; Iraq up to the present day and Afghanistan, against US and NATO forces.
If that is what happened, it would be the first time Tehran has harnessed al Qaeda to lash out out against Egyptian and Israeli military targets as a riposte for the presence of al Qaeda fighters in the revolt against Bashar Assad.
Just a few hours earlier, Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani declared: "The fire that has been ignited in Syria will take the fearful (Israelis) with it.”
That was also the first time Tehran had explicitly threatened that the Syrian conflict would spill over into Israel.