Terror in Egypt

The death toll from the explosions in Egypt is around 40 with 160 injured, most of them Israelis. Although the Israel Govt. issued a warning to Israelis that they should not visit Sinai at this time because of “concrete warnings of a terror attack,” ca. 25,000 Israelis were in Sinai. An exodus of Israelis from Sinai is now under way.

Most of the damage and deaths occurred in the Hilton Hotel in Taba that was originally within Israel and was built by Israelis. It was returned to Egypt as part of the peace treaty. The border to Eilat is within walking distance of the hotel. Apparently a car or truck bomb was exploded inside the lobby bringing down the front section of the 10 story edifice. Needless to say there was probably little or no security in Egypt, and it is amazing to me that so many Israelis were prepared, after repeated warnings, and what happened in Mombasa when an Israeli Resort was blown up, that so many would risk their lives so readily. The Egyptian authorities have apparently cooperated fully with the Israeli rescue and medical operations.

Most of the wounded have been taken to hospital in Eilat and Beer Sheva.  The attacks in Ras a-Sultan and Nueiba down the Egyptian Red Sea coast have not been fully described yet, but were not as serious as the Taba incident.  Clearly these attacks will have a serious effect on future Israeli and other tourism to Sinai and to Egypt. The last terrorist attack in Egypt occurred in 1995 when about 60 European tourists were shot dead in an attack in  southern Egypt.

The groups that claimed responsibility for the current attacks are not well known. It is unclear if they are connected with Hamas, as revenge for the current Israeli campaign in Gaza, or by an al Qaeda linked group to simply kill Israelis. In either case, the Egyptian authorities will be very concerned since they thought that they had destroyed the indigenous Moslem Brotherhood terror groups, that were largely behind the development of Hamas in Gaza, and al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia/Afghanistan in the first place. If this coordinated attack was indeed planned and carried out by Egyptians, then one can expect serious repercussions within Egypt. Although many Egyptians are ambivalent about the peace treaty with Israel, they are fiercely nationalistic, and will not be happy about these attacks carried out on their soil.

At the same time as these attacks, there were attacks on the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad and in Kabul, just before the elections there. This emphasizes the international nature of the Islamic terrorist threat. But, at the same time, Europeans make a deliberate mental note that separates attacks on Israelis from the other attacks around the world. As far as most of them are concerned Israel deserves these attacks for mistreatment of the Palestinians (“disproportionate” responses) and for “causing” the whole phenomenon of Islamic terrorism in the first place. Many Europeans will be impatient with Israelis for making any fuss about these further Israeli civilian deaths when so many (ca. 95) Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.  Of course, they prefer to ignore the fact that the vast majority of these were Hamas terrorists and other gunmen, and that Israel’s operation in Gaza was initiated only because of the constant bombardment of Kassam rockets into Israeli territory.

The tactics of these attacks seems more like an al Qaeda group than Palestinian, and they clearly had good intelligence on a “soft spot” in Israeli security. Israel cannot control what happens in other countries, however close it is to our borders. In future, let the Israelis visit the Negev instead of the Sinai, where they will be much safer.

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