The headline in the Israeli daily Time Of Israel, on July 11, 2016, read as follows:
“With Egypt’s blessing, Israel conducting drone strikes in Sinai”. Similar headlines appeared in other Israeli newspapers.
The article that followed was based on a report by Bloomberg News that quoted a statement by an unnamed former senior Israeli official who said that Israel has carried out drone strikes against terrorists operating in the Sinai Peninsula in recent years. According to the report the airstrikes were conducted with Egypt’s knowledge and blessing. According to the source, it is a well-known secret that Jerusalem and Cairo cooperate closely on security measures in the Sinai and Gaza.
On August 17, 2016 the reputable Jane’s.com, a weekly magazine reporting on military and corporate affairs, posted on its website, that “Israeli forces prepare for Islamic State attacks”. According the Jane’s, “The Israeli government and military are seeking to prepare for an attack that they regard as inevitable, regardless of the future evolution of the wider threat.”
On May 10, the United With Israel website reported that the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization is planning to launch a massive attack against Israel from the Sinai Peninsula. United With Israel quoted a report in the German Bild newspaper. According to the report, the IDF is concerned about a potential large-scale ISIS terrorist attack against Israel. The report quotes an IDF officer who said such an attack could include even the use of tanks and artillery by ISIS terrorists.
The Sinai based Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, a terrorist organization which has pledged allegiance to ISIS in Syria, is training hundreds of terrorists, who are reportedly waiting for the order to attack Israel. Israel has prepared for a wide variety of ISIS attack scenarios, and most recently held a two-day drill large-scale naval drill in the southern city of Eilat which simulated a multiple-pronged ISIS attack on the city, including the hijack of a civilian vessel.
The headline in the Washington Post on January 26, 2016 read as follows: “Why is Israel so cautious on the Islamic State? A recent war game explains why.”
The Washington post reported on a simulation exercise that was run by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) as part of its annual conference. The simulation illustrated the paradoxical reality of the conflict against the Islamic State: Israel and Jordan act with caution and restraint, hoping to avoid being drawn deeper into the chaotic Syrian war, even as the United States escalates its involvement. There’s growing consensus that the Islamic State poses a severe threat to regional and even international order; one senior former Israeli official described the conflict with the caliphate as “World War III.” But most players still want to hold America’s coat while the United States does the bulk of the fighting. Israel, rather than attacking Islamic State forces along its northern and eastern borders, pursues a policy of deterrence, containment and even quiet liaison.
On March 24, 2016, Time Of Israel reported on an article published by ISIS which stated that Palestine is not the Muslims’ ‘primary cause’. IS article argued that ending Saudi control of Mecca and Medina takes precedence. ISIS argued that the Palestinian issue should not get preferential treatment. The ISIS article stated that once the Arab regimes, which supposedly defend Israel, are toppled, then jihadi forces will attack Israel directly.
The Israeli daily Haaretz, also reporting on the ISIS article, commented that “ISIS has made clear that fighting Shi’ite Muslims is its top priority, that the Islamic State’s target bank contains a long list of Arab leaders – including the Saudi and Jordanian kings, the prime minister of Iraq, the president of Egypt and even the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood – before it gets to the Jews and Israel.
Perhaps ISIS initial strategy was to attack neighboring countries before shifting its attention to Israel, and perhaps ISIS is not a great supporter of the Palestinian cause. However, there’s nothing more uniting for Islamic extremists then attacking Israel.
ISIS has suffered heavy loses in Iraq and Syria in recent months. It has been shifting its operation to places where it can hide and operate without interruptions. Libya, Yemen, and the Sinai peninsula are such places.
ISIS has difficulties recruiting new members. A successful attack on places such as Israel’s southern city Eilat will bring the organization the press it needs to recruit new members and restore its reputation.
The Jerusalem Post reported on March 27, 2016, that ‘ISIS branch in Egypt’s Sinai planning big operation in southern Israel’ . That according to a source in Gaza, ISIS in Sinai “will be the pioneers” in a future confrontation with Israel. That the terrorist organization plans to carry out a “big operation” in southern Israel, which will include an attack on the resort city of Eilat.
Eilat is located on the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba. An ISIS attack could come from the sea. It was reported that ISIS gained access to small submarines used by drug traffickers.
On August 5, 2016, Janes.com reported that the IDF is introducing new artillery doctrine, a new tactical doctrine that combines short bursts of shell fire with guided surface-to-surface missiles to carry out rapid and independent surface-to-surface strikes. The technique is specifically designed to target asymmetrical threats such as militants who vanish into civilian areas after carrying out hit-and-run attacks.
The report does not tie the new doctrine to the ISIS threat from the Sinai peninsula, but wouldn’t it come handy, if and when, IDF’s drones detect an imminent attack by ISIS forces, exposing terrorists rushing across the desert toward the Israeli border?
On March 4, 2016, Janes.com reported that the “Israeli Navy adapts patrol boats for new threats”. The report states that the Israeli Navy is developing an active protection system to defend its fast patrol boats against guided missile attacks. The move follows the destruction of an Egyptian Swiftships patrol boat close to the Gaza coast on 15 July 2015. The militant group that carried out the attack released an image indicating it involved a Russian-made Kornet, a type of Russian-made anti-tank guided-missile system that is also in service with Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
Additionally, the navy is equipping its fast patrol boats with underwater charges to deal with the threat of divers. The threat from militants using diving equipment to infiltrate the Israeli coastline was highlighted during ‘Protective Edge’, when a group of Hamas divers came ashore just north of Gaza Strip, where they were killed by Israeli land and naval forces.
Eilat seems to be a favorite target for ISIS. On December 7, 2015,the Israeli daily Ynet reported that the Islamic State recently published a series of videos which included threats to attack Israel. Some of the films sought to encourage terrorists to carry out attacks, while ISIS’s Sinai branch directly threatened an attack on Eilat.
If we are to believe the flurry of recent reports from different news outlets around the world, then an ISIS attack on Israel is a real possibility and the more desperate ISIS becomes in Syria and Iraq, the faster it will shift its attention to Israel.
News outlets predict that attack will come soon, and that it will be on Israel’s Southern border. Attack could come from the sea, from the air, or by land. It could be a rocket attack, tanks crossing the border, or submarines landing troops on the beach.
As stated in the report on the IDF’s simulation exercise, Israel is preparing for all these eventualities. ISIS hasn’t confronted the IDF before, so it might have a distorted view of its capabilities, based on ISIS’ experience with the Egyptian, the Iraqi, and Syrian armies. If and when an ISIS attack will be carried out, Israel’s response will be fast and furious.It will be an opportunity for the IDF to hit hard all the targets it has been accumulating in its targets book. It is likely that the Egyptian army will join the attack, or that it will allow the IDF access to the Sinai peninsula to do the work.