Israel closed its borders with Egypt and Gaza after an ISIS-affiliated group in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula carried out a series of sophisticated, coordinated attacks on Egyptian security personnel near Israel’s border, leaving at least 100 people dead.
The closed border crossings include the Nitzana border crossing with Sinai and the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza.
The attacks come two days after the assassination of Egypt’s prosecutor-general in a car bombing in Cairo.
The simultaneous attacks included at least three suicide bombings which targeted numerous army checkpoints in northern Sinai which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The town of Sheikh Zuweid is reported to have become a virtual battle zone as Egypt’s military fought back against a group calling themselves ‘Sinai Province’, which is thought to be a manifestation of the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group, which last year pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Since the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2013, Ansar has targeted the regime of President al-Sisi, persistently attacking Egyptian military forces in Sinai. In response, Egypt’s military has launched an ongoing offensive against the group. Although the regime in Cairo has been the primary target for Ansar, the group has also made clear that it is committed to attacking Israel. 18 months ago, two rockets were fired by the group on Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the Sinai attacks saying, “Islamic State is not only across from the Golan Heights, it is also in Egypt, across from Rafah, in other words across from our borders … we are together with Egypt and many other states in the Middle East and the world in the struggle against extreme Islamic terrorism.”
Israel is likely to approve Egyptian requests to bolster forces in Sinai, with such permission stipulated in the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
Israeli intelligence believes that Hamas maintains close ties with the Islamic State-affiliated jihadists in Sinai.
Egyptian sources claim that Hamas cares for the Sinai group’s wounded in Gazan hospitals, while the “Sinai Province” of the IS-declared “caliphate,” maintains Hamas weapons caches in the Egyptian peninsula, effectively beyond the reach of Israeli air strikes, according to a report in the Haaretz daily.
Sinai Province is also said to be aiding Hamas in efforts to smuggle weapons into Gaza as part of the Palestinian group’s rearmament programme.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said : “Behind this terrorism stands a country like Iran, and organizations like ISIS, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is our responsibility, as a state, along with the other countries that are dealing with terrorism, to cooperate and not allow it to raise its head, and I believe that this is what will be done.”