The foiled terror attack near the Kerem Shalom border crossing [on the Israel-Egypt-Gaza border] on August 5 is no doubt exceptional in terms of the method of operation implemented, the daring displayed and above all, the target chosen for the attack, which was aimed not only against Israel but also directly against Egyptian forces. The terror attack was apparently designed not only to kill and abduct [Israeli soldiers and/or civilians] but also to drive a wedge between Israel and Egypt and wreak havoc in the region. It thus calls to mind the methods of operation of al-Qaeda and global jihad elements, as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. In all these cases, the terrorists seek to take advantage of an already chaotic situation and, by launching large-scale showcase terror attacks, further escalate the situation and undermine the regime — in this case, the Egyptian regime.
On a purely operational level, the large scale of the terror attack and its violent and noisy introductory stage in the area under Egyptian control have facilitated the professional and successful action of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel's domestic security agency (the Shin Bet). Naturally, it's much easier to locate beforehand — and certainly after fire was opened on the Egyptian side of the border — preparations and movement of forces on such an order of magnitude than pin down a tunnel dug under cover in the course of months, the way it had been in the affair of [IDF soldier] Gilad Shalit [abducted on June 25, 2006 by Hamas, in a cross-border raid in the very same area]. It is easier to hit two vehicles trying to ram through the security fence than to spot a single terrorist setting out on a terror attack from civilian territory, as has indeed happened more than once in Judea and Samaria, or to track down a small terror squad that infiltrates through the [Israeli] defense lineup.
This does not detract from the credit deserved by those who exposed the terrorists and acted to thwart the planned terror attack this time around. Anyway, as a rule, the larger and more "military-like" the operation, the easier it is for a defense army, in particular an army equipped with advanced systems, like the IDF, to cope with it.
The tactical issue aside, one may wonder about the implications of the new world of threats that Israel is facing. Clearly, in all the neighboring Arab countries, including those with which we have a peace agreement, the regimes in power have weakened while violent trends have been strengthening. In the Sinai Peninsula, it is a case of religious radicalization and, in particular, hostility against the regime in Cairo (which dates back to Mubarak's days in power and his treatment, or rather, his neglect of the Sinai Bedouin).Obviously, such a chaotic situation attracts lawless elements that find this anarchic environment just right for their mode of operation. At the same time, it may well be that the new situation in the region is less threatening to Israel and its inhabitants than that previously prevailing, where regular army forces were deployed on the other side of the border, poised against Israel, buttressed by an array of political measures at the disposal of the neighboring regimes.
The words "global jihad" may sound alarming; however they represent a certain worldview and probably even a range of financing and fund allocation bodies, as well as various inspiration sources and training elements rather than a single, uniform, mighty entity. As to al-Qaeda, since September 11, 2001 it has been on the defensive and the ominous vision of the Western world as being menaced by a tidal wave of terror has not materialized. These elements of terror flourish particularly where the West has been involved in a problematic local situation, first and foremost in Iraq. The threat to Israel's security posed by the Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula and perhaps even by terror groups that returned from Iraq to Syria and may attempt to hit Israel is far less serious than that posed by the Egyptian or Syrian army, or the Hezbollah missiles which, although capable, of striking the Israeli home front, constitute no real danger to the existence of the State of Israel or [the intactness of] its borders.
What we need right now, here in Israel, is judicious consideration of the security components of Israel in cost-benefit terms. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is right when he says that the share of the defense budget in the total gross national product (GNP) significantly dropped in the past two decades; the problem however is that it isn't always clear how much of the current budget is invested in providing response to the real threat [facing Israel] and what part of it is still financing, at a huge cost, outdated systems designed to address needs of the past. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, too, has recently referred to the issue when doubting the need for highly expensive systems purchased for defense purposes.
It would be a mistake if the realization that we have to cope with new threats will lead to a shopping spree and uncalculated expansion [of the armed forces] rather than stimulate a careful evaluation of what is needed today and what is redundant. It is not only a question of money but also of the number of draftees and their assignments, the real value of systems that were purchased at a very high cost, the relevance of the established operational doctrine and the military training system, which are based on the motto defined by [former IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.)] Gabi Ashkenazi: "We are always preparing for the great war, while routine security tasks are only a derivative of that activity." The security along Israel's borders, as distinguished from the security of its home front and possibly even its situation in the unconventional arena, is much better than it used to be in the past. The question of how many resources should be invested [in military reinforcement] cannot be answered by the offhand approach saying, "well, let's take whatever is available and then invest everything that is needed, as it's the global jihad that is on our doorstep."