A newly formed al-Qaeda group known as the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack across the Israeli-Egyptian border on the Sinai Peninsula. The claim, made by video posted on an al-Qaeda website, confirms Israel’s assertion that the terror group is operating in the Sinai and that a new front has opened up for Israel in its battle with radical Islamists. The video also promises additional attacks in the near future.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called on Egypt to re-assert control over its Sinai Peninsula. “We expect the president to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel, and to ensure security arrangements are in place in Sinai to stop these kind of attacks,” Barak said.
The al-Qaeda claim of responsibility is significant because Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, maintains that al-Qaeda has not been allowed to operate inside Gaza. While both are militant Islamist groups, they have different ideologies and goals. While Hamas claims to operate solely against Israel, al-Qaeda operates against the West generally with goals more in line with the Muslim Brotherhood which is likely to gain control in Egypt once the presidential election there is concluded.
Concurrently, Hamas launched its largest attack in recent months consisting of 46 combined rockets and mortars. The attack included ten Grad Katyusha rockets, one of which hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashqelon. The Grad has significantly more range and power than the more common Qassam missile typically used by Gaza against Israel. Hamas has taken direct responsibility for the attack, breaking from a year of claims that smaller factions such as Islamic Jihad or the Popular Resistance Committees have been responsible for the missiles out of Gaza. The move represents a significant escalation of hostilities by Hamas which has refrained from firing Grads into Israel for the last year. Israel has deployed Iron Dome mobile anti-missile batteries across the south as a contingency against further missile attacks.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak convened a meeting with the top military and intelligence officials to discuss options for addressing the escalating violence. In an interview with Israel Radio Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said, "The prospect of a ground operation (in the Gaza Strip) shouldn't frighten us. If this situation escalates, and I hope it won't, then all options are open. They know it. We know it. The international community knows it.”
Touring the area of the attack on the Sinai border Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said, "The more significant issue is what is happening inside Sinai-- the dispatch areas, the terror bases that are expanding and growing there. Egypt must exercise its sovereignty in Sinai."
The increase in hostilities on the southern border comes at a bad time for Israel which is dealing with a regional sectarian conflict on its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon and a showdown with Iran over their nuclear ambitions. The Obama administration which has recently given significant funding to both the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza, has been noticeably silent regarding these most recent attacks.