Were the Eilat gunmen Egyptian?

I’m not sure how much play this has gotten in the Egyptian media, but the 21 September of the large-circulation Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth ran a story saying that the Israeli government’s investigation into the Eilat attack revealed the perpetrators were Egyptians — including a serving police officer. The Egyptians are said to have rejected these findings.

Obviously it’s not conclusive — right now it’s just a leak to a local paper — but this might indicate the arguments the Israelis will be making to the Egyptians (and Americans) in the month ahead. It plays into the poor security situation in Sinai and the fear that it might turn into a jihadist training ground.

There are several things worth bearing in mind in this:

  • Israel originally said they were Palestinians and used this as a pretext to bombard Gaza. They still claim the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza were the people behind this, subcontracting the job to Sinai-based Egyptians. How that works I’m not sure.
  • This boosts the Egyptian argument for greater military presence in Eastern Sinai — or would if they accepted the premise of the report.
  • As the Yediot report notes, this now gives the Israelis ammo to push the Egyptians, who are pushing back with the killing of Egyptian border guards that followed the Eilat attack.
  • More generally, it raises questions about the radical Islamist groups known to be operating in Central Sinai, how they might be countered, and what the Egyptian military is doing about it through its “Operation Eagle” launched in August. Or indeed, even the possibility that the group was not Islamist all — an outlier possibility.

The full text of the report, translated from the original Hebrew by Israel News Today, is below.

Investigation Finds All Perpetrators of Eilat Road Attack Were Egyptians

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 13) by Alex Fishman – The IDF’s investigation into the terrorist assault that was committed on Route 12 to the north of Eilat on August 18 found unequivocally that the attack was perpetrated by Egyptian citizens, one of whom was a police officer on active duty. The Egyptians had been recruited by Palestinian terror organizations in Gaza.

   Eight Israelis were killed in the series of terror attacks that was perpetrated on August 18, and five Egyptian policemen were killed. The IDF’s investigation of the incident was recently completed and its findings indicate that the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza sponsored the terror attack, but the terrorists who executed the attack were Egyptians.

   The investigation found that the Popular Resistance Committees recruited the group of Egyptian terrorists in Sinai. It then trained and equipped them and also provided them with logistical support. The 20 members of the cell, which was comprised of the Egyptian gunmen as well as their Palestinian handlers and assistants, had planned a suicide assault inside Israel and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier or civilian. The Egyptian terrorists were responsible for the sniper fire from within Egyptian territory, and the three squads of suicide bombers who went onto Route 12 to attack the Israeli vehicles were also comprised of Egyptian citizens.

   The investigation also found that nearly all of the Egyptian policemen who were shot by IDF gunfire were killed only at a late stage in the terror attack. Most of them were killed in the IDF fire that came in response to the Egyptian sniper fire that killed Pascal Avrahami of the Israel Police’s SWAT team.

   Despite the fact that the IDF’s conclusions are based on the absolute identification of the terrorists’ bodies, the Egyptian authorities have rejected those findings. Israeli military officials who visited Cairo a number of days ago presented the findings of the investigation to the Egyptian leadership. It was their impression that the Egyptian leadership was prepared to discuss only Israel’s role in the killing of the five policemen, and has demanded that Israel assume responsibility and apologize publicly for their deaths. As such, the military report has only served to intensify the tense relations that exist in any case between Israel and Egypt.