Seven terrorists killed eight Israelis on a Negev Desert road north of the Israeli resort city of Eilat on Thursday.  --  The attack was "a sustained assault, a complex military attack that included missiles, mortars, improvised explosive devices, small arms and, on the bodies of two of the seven assailants killed, explosive vests," Time said Thursday.[1]  --  "Israeli security officials had been tracking the militants from the Gaza Strip, where plans were laid for the attack . . . [b]ut somehow, the militants found a way to strike first, killing seven Israelis on a lonely desert highway."  --  Although "[n]o group claimed responsibility for the attack," within six hours "the Israeli military bombed a Gaza target associated with the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group formed from the more militant remnants of the secular Fatah faction driven out of coastal enclave by Hamas four years ago."  --  And within an hour after that, "rockets were fired from Gaza toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon."  --  "[T]he tit-for-tat exchange raised concerns about military escalation between Israel and Hamas, which disavowed the attack but which Israel holds ultimately responsible for threats emerging from the enclave."  --  Bloomberg reported Friday that Israel's retaliatory air strikes on Gaza have already killed seven Palestinians, including the two top commanders of the umbrella Popular Resistance Committees.[2]  --  "The escalating violence, in which about 14 missiles hit Israel and more than 10 strikes were launched on Gaza, was the worst since April and raised the possibility of a more extensive Israeli military operation," Gwen Ackerman said.  --  Israel is eager to blame Hamas for the violence, but “Hamas is not interested right now in an escalation" because Palestinians "plan to ask the United Nations next month to recognize their state in the absence of peace talks with Israel."  --  In a commentary on the website +972, Joseph Dana noted that "Israeli officials and their spokespeople in the media [have] failed to provide factual evidence clearly proving responsibility.  The airstrikes killed a number of senior operatives in the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a terror group with weak links to Hamas, as well as civilians including at least one child.  The speed at which Israel began airstrikes in Gaza without providing factual evidence of PRC’s involvement raises questions concerning the existence of a premeditated Israeli plan to launch a summer offensive against the population of Gaza.  For the record, Hamas has publicly stated numerous times in the past 24 hours that it had nothing to do with the terror attacks in Eilat."[3] ...


1.

ATTACK IN THE ISRAELI DESERT: 'IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO END THIS WAY'

By Karl Vick and Aaron J. Klein

Time

August 18, 2011

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2089467,00.html


JERUSALEM -- What headlines described as a terrorist attack in the desert just north of the Israeli resort city of Eilat was in fact a sustained assault, a complex military attack that included missiles, mortars, improvised explosive devices, small arms and, on the bodies of two of the seven assailants killed, explosive vests.  Israeli security officials had been tracking the militants from the Gaza Strip, where plans were laid for the attack, into the lawless Sinai desert that since the fall of Hosni Mubarak has offered a more and more accessible back door to Israel. But somehow, the militants found a way to strike first, killing seven Israelis on a lonely desert highway.

"It wasn't supposed to end this way," a senior Israeli intelligence officer tells TIME.  "And now we have to find out why it didn't end the way it should have."

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but barely six hours later the Israeli military bombed a Gaza target associated with the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group formed from the more militant remnants of the secular Fatah faction driven out of coastal enclave by Hamas four years ago.  Within an hour, three rockets were fired from Gaza toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.  They were knocked out of the sky by the Israeli anti-missile system known as Iron Dome, but the tit-for-tat exchange raised concerns about military escalation between Israel and Hamas, which disavowed the attack but which Israel holds ultimately responsible for threats emerging from the enclave.

How do they emerge?  Gaza's borders with Israel may be tightly sealed, but its western boundary with Egypt has long been porous -- shot through with tunnels, as well as the official border crossing -- and in recent weeks so have routes south through the Sinai wastes toward the unfenced boundary with Israel.  For years under the reign of Egyptian president Mubarak, it was nearly impossible for Bedouin tribesmen or militants from the north to get past military checkpoints blocking the way south, where the Red Sea resorts on both the Egyptian and the Israeli side made tempting targets for terror attacks.  But roads that were heavily patrolled a year ago are now largely open to north-south travel.  Smugglers in Rafah, on the Gaza border, recently told TIME of having arrived from Sharm el Sheik, on the Red Sea, via north-south roads with no trouble.

The lack of control has made the region a hotbed for Islamic militants, including extremist aligned with Al Qaeda.  Two weeks ago armed Islamists overran a police station in al-Arish, 35 kilometers west of Gaza, distributing pamphlets calling for Islamic rule over Sinai.  "We know very well that many militants from Al-Qaeda are now working on the ground in this part of the Sinai, and they can get in and out of the Gaza Strip," says Emad Gad, a political analyst at the Ahram Center for Poltical and Strategic Studies in Cairo.  The number of Egyptian troops allowed in the Sinai has been restricted since the two countries made peace, but with the relative chaos of recent months Gad called for a new agreement that would allow a significant influx of Egyptian forces, like the 1,000 troops Israel agreed to allow in last week.

"I think Egypt and Israel are victims of terrorism," says Gad, speaking even before Thursday's multi-phased attack, which caught Israeli officials flat-footed.

The attack came on Highway 15, a lonesome and monotonous road that which runs through the Negev Desert toward the Israeli resort city of Eilat.  About 20 miles to the north, as the map of Israel tapers toward its tiny boundary with the Red Sea, where Israel, Egypt, and Jordan share a shore in the space of six miles, the road runs right alongside an Egyptian border marked only at one-kilometer intervals by stone markers and sun-baked uniformed soldiers who normally keep to the shade.  At midday Thursday, motorist Aharon Gonen noticed a man in uniform prone on the side of the road and wondered, as he later told reporters:  "Why is he lying on the ground at noon?"

The answer came an instant later, with an explosion of shattered safety glass that announced the first attack.  Gonen, who was unhurt, flashed his lights to warn the bus approaching from the other direction but was too late.  Seven passengers were wounded by automatic weapons fire.  The bus driver proceeded to an Israeli army checkpoint a few miles further on, and a half hour later an Israeli patrol approached the scene.  Militants detonated an improvised-explosive device, wounding four soldiers.

Meanwhile, attacks on traffic continued.  A second bus, empty except for the driver, was hit by what may have been an anti-tank missile.  The driver was killed.

Another missile hit a civilian car, killing the two couples inside.  In another car, a sixth Israeli was killed by fire that wounded his wife, who authorities said played dead until help arrived.  The seventh fatality was an Israeli soldier killed by a hidden explosive.

Israel shut down all roads into Eilat and sent hundreds of troops on a manhunt.  Officials said seven attackers were killed, three inside Israel and four in Egypt -- two by Israeli forces in hot pursuit, and two by actual Egyptian soldiers, according to reports.  An Israeli military official said the hunt would continue.  "This kind of operations requires more than seven people," he said.

Working against them is a security status quo that changed dramatically the night of Jan. 28 when Mubarak addressed a nation that expected him to step down.  After a day of intense clashes between protesters and Interior Ministry forces in cities across Egypt, the latter withdrew from their posts -- including those in the Sinai, where the attacks from Bedouin protesters were particularly violent.

During and in the immediate aftermath of the uprising, thousands of prisoners -- many of them terror suspects or Sinai Bedouin -- escaped or were released from prisons throughout Egypt.  And even as a weakened Interior Ministry returned its forces to Egypt's streets, it failed to do so in parts of eastern Sinai, including the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zweid near Egypt's border with Gaza, where Bedouin tribal leaders and smugglers had threatened them with death if they returned.

In the next six months, Bedouin smugglers and Islamist groups in the Sinai enjoyed a period of unprecedented freedoms.  In the absence of a police force, tribal law has haphazardly filled the void of authority.  But militant activity, smuggling, and tribal conflict have raged, largely off the radar of a military leadership that is already overwhelmed by the broader task of running the post-Mubarak Egypt.  "The general perception is it's the Wild West on steroids at this point," says one high-ranking Western diplomat in Cairo.  "The smuggling organizations have been relatively unchallenged for the past few months."

--With reporting by Abigail Hauslohner in Cairo.

2.

ISRAELI JETS STRIKE GAZA AFTER EILAT ATTACKS; ROCKETS WOUND TWO IN ASHDOD

By Gwen Ackerman

Bloomberg
August 19, 2011

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-19/gaza-launched-rockets-wound-two-in-israeli-city-in-second-day-of-violence.html


Israel hit weapons factories and smuggling tunnels in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as rockets struck its south a day after attacks outside the resort city of Eilat killed eight soldiers and civilians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned yesterday that Palestinian militants who attack Israelis will “pay a very heavy price” and said those responsible for the attacks near Eilat were no longer alive.

An Israeli air strike on Gaza yesterday killed six, including the two top commanders of the umbrella Popular Resistance Committees.  A seventh Palestinian was killed in strikes overnight, Gaza health officials said.

The escalating violence, in which about 14 missiles hit Israel and more than 10 strikes were launched on Gaza, was the worst since April and raised the possibility of a more extensive Israeli military operation on the seaside strip Hamas has controlled since 2007 after ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. The group won parliamentary elections the year earlier.

“The military is already striking those responsible for the attacks and if there is a need, the operations will be expanded,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in broadcast remarks yesterday.

Israeli officials have said that the militants who yesterday shot at buses, cars, and forces left Gaza for the Sinai peninsula, part of Egypt, to infiltrate Israel.  Seven of the assailants were killed yesterday, the army said.

Two Israelis were wounded and buildings damaged in a rocket attack today on the city of Ashdod, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Gaza, a police statement said.  The army said at least 10 rockets hit Israel since late yesterday, including one near Beersheba, the largest southern city.

Gaza health official Adham Abu Selmeya said a young civilian was killed early today in Israeli strikes, bringing the total death toll in the current round of violence to 22.

A three-week operation that Israel launched in December 2008 to halt rocket fire from Gaza left more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.  Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the U.S., the European Union, and Israel, has denied any involvement in yesterday’s attacks.

The Popular Resistance Committees said in a statement yesterday that they planned to avenge the deaths of their members.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat urged the international community to step in to prevent escalation and said “such violence doesn’t advance the Palestinian cause for freedom and independence.”

PALESTINIAN RECOGNITION


The Palestinians plan to ask the United Nations next month to recognize their state in the absence of peace talks with Israel.  The negotiations fell apart last September after Netanyahu refused to renew a 10-month partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and Abbas said he wouldn’t return to talks without a total halt on building.

Israel’s army is reinforcing points on its frontiers and boosting stockpiles of rubber bullets and tear gas to prepare for possible unrest stemming from the Palestinian initiative, a senior officer said on July 19.

A major military operation in Gaza “could bring about an escalation that could spiral out of control as Israel heads towards the difficult period in September,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of Ben Gurion University’s Herzog Center for Middle East Studies in Beersheva.  “Hamas is not interested right now in an escalation.”

The violence comes amid Israeli concerns that Egyptian security forces are losing control of the border area following the February ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

EGYPT SECURITY CONCERN


Egyptian natural-gas supplies to Israel, which receives about 40 percent of the fuel from Egypt, were disrupted after four separate attacks on the pipeline network between Feb. 5 and July 12.

Protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo called today for the expulsion of the mission’s ambassador, Al Arabiya television reported.

Three Egyptian security personnel were killed yesterday in the violence, apparently by Israeli fire directed at suspects, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said early today.  The Egyptian government lodged an official protest with Israel today and demanded an investigation of the deaths of the three officers, Egyptian state television said today.

“Messages have been exchanged between Israel and Egypt at the very top level,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Coordination is very good.”

HAMAS DENIAL


Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index closed down 3.8 percent yesterday, the largest drop in 10 days.  The shekel weakened 0.4 percent against the dollar and was trading at 3.5724 shekels to the dollar at 4:18 p.m. in Tel Aviv.  The Israeli stock market is closed today.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.  The group refuses to negotiate with Israel or recognize any agreements signed with it.  Hamas has denied it was involved in yesterday’s attacks.

The U.S. government condemned the attacks, which caused the most Israeli fatalities in a single terrorist incident since March 2008, when eight students were killed by an armed Palestinian who opened fire in a Jerusalem religious school.

“The U.S. and Israel stand united against terror and we hope those behind this attack will be brought to justice swiftly,” a statement from President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


3.

WHO IS BEHIND THE EILAT TERROR ATTACK?

By Joseph Dana

+972
August 19, 2011

http://972mag.com/who-is-behind-the-eilat-terror-attack/


The horrific terror attacks in Oslo some weeks ago provided a valuable lesson for journalists.  Almost as soon as the attacks took place, journalists throughout the world rushed to place blame on Al Qaeda.  Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger at the *Washington Post* known for her extreme views on Israeli politics, wrote that the attacks were committed by Al-Qaeda terrorists and used them to attack President Barak Obama’s foreign policy objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Her piece was left unchanged on the Washington Post website for a full 24 hours despite evidence that the perpetrator of the attack was, in fact, a right wing Christian fanatic not connected to Al-Qaeda.

Yesterday morning, Israel was rocked by a triple terror attack which left eight people dead and moved the country to a state of high alert.  Within hours of the attack, Israel began a series of aggressive airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip, claiming that they were reprisal attacks against the Palestinian leadership who gave the order for the Eilat operations.  However, Israeli officials and their spokespeople in the media failed to provide factual evidence clearly proving responsibility.  The airstrikes killed a number of senior operatives in the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a terror group with weak links to Hamas, as well as civilians including at least one child.  The speed at which Israel began airstrikes in Gaza without providing factual evidence of PRC’s involvement raises questions concerning the existence of a premeditated Israeli plan to launch a summer offensive against the population of Gaza.  For the record, Hamas has publicly stated numerous times in the past 24 hours that it had nothing to do with the terror attacks in Eilat.

Despite uncertainty over those responsible for the attacks yesterday, Israeli journalists were quick to pass on government hearsay as fact.  Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, rushed to place responsibility on the PRC for the terror attacks on his Twitter feed.  When I asked him to provide factual proof for his claim other than citing anonymous sources, he responded, “This is what I know from my sources.  You can choose to believe or not to, like every article I publish in Haaretz.”

Shouldn’t one evaluate Ravid’s reports and claims based on the factual material which he presents?  Since when does “belief” play a central role in a reporter’s credibility on specific military issues?  Without knowing Ravid’s sources, it is difficult to ‘believe’ and judge them on their credibility.  Ravid was not alone in placing blame on PRC as most of the international media outlets adopted the Israeli government line.