In the aftermath of the rocket fire on the southern Israeli town of Eilat shortly before Passover, it is a good opportunity to ask the age-old question from the Haggadah: How is this night different from all other nights? This is especially relevant since the answer — then and now — is to be found in Egypt. The past year has seen the Sinai Peninsula dramatically transform. Some Israeli defense-establishment officials contend that the process had started years before, peaking only recently. Having had difficulties launching terror attacks from Gaza, Hamas and other organizations started looking for a new playground a few years ago.
Previously an oasis for contraband, the Sinai's face has changed. Large quantities of munitions have been pouring in, and Global Jihad militants have found it to be an auspicious ground on which to operate. The area has also seen religious radicalization among disenfranchised Bedouins. Moreover, the Egyptian authorities have demonstrated tenuous governance in the Peninsula, and even Israel had turned a blind eye over the years in light of the peace accord. A perilous area rife with threats has emerged, harboring terrorist cells that detonate explosive vests or shoot at Israeli cars en route to Eilat. It has become a place for firing rockets, kidnapping attempts and incursions into Israeli towns. And the list goes on and on.
Israel, albeit a tad late, has come to the realization that the once-slumberous sector has woken up. There is no longer any room for complacency. The 200-kilometer fence that is under construction is only what meets the eye. Behind the scenes, however, the IDF has changed its modus operandi, giving it no less attention and measures than large sectors of the northern border. Overseeing that southern theater, Division Edom has undergone the most significant upgrade since its establishment in the late 1980s. However, the answer to “what is different about the 2012 model?” has a second part. Given that this is a shared border with a country with which we have a peace accord, it is in Israel’s paramount strategic interest to uphold the agreement. Consequently, this compels the defense establishment to operate very gingerly along the border, without any possibility of crossing it. It is hard to fire across the border, gather intelligence and react. No one will give an order to a tank or a helicopter-gunship to open fire at the Egyptians.
This sticky wicket has another variable, which was recently alluded to by Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz. It may hold a certain solution. One of the Sinai’s most salient features is that not only terrorism has grown in it. Among other things, it provides an ideal location for those who want to engage covertly in terror operations, mainly for fear of Israeli retaliation. The military calls it operating under the radar. They shoot, flee and disappear. The terrorists know that it is hard to track them down, and that Israel will not be quick to react. In between the lines of his address, Lieutenant-General Gantz intimated that that equation might change, and that those in Jabalia or Rafah after firing rockets at Eilat should be on tenterhooks.