ANALYSIS: How a Single Egyptian Soldier Opened a New War Front with Israel

Israeli soldiers near the Egypt-Israel border area following a deadly incident last June. (Photo: Video Grab, file)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

Though not wanting to escalate the situation with Egypt, the Israelis see the incident as a dangerous one. 

Three Israeli soldiers were killed and an officer was wounded by an Egyptian policeman, in a clash that broke out at dawn Saturday, at the Al-Awja border crossing, Israeli media reported, citing Israeli military sources. 

For its part, the Egyptian side linked the incident to a shooting that occurred while Egyptian military personnel allegedly chased drug smugglers across the border.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations and current member of the Knesset on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Danny Danon, described the statement released by the Egyptian military following the incident as “shameful”.

Reconciliatory Tone

Unlike Danon, Netanyahu spoke cordially about the special relationship Israel has with Egypt. 

True, he described the incident as “terrorist and dangerous”, but he was careful not to hold Egypt responsible for the attack, although Israeli media, citing Israeli security sources, suggested that the soldier had received help from others, at least in terms of planning. 

The official Israeli broadcasting corporation said that the country’s Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, had a telephone meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Minister Mohammed Zaki, in which the former emphasized the “very important” relationship between Israel and Egypt. 

Conflicting Reports after Three Israeli Soldiers Killed Near Egypt Border

Too Many Fronts

The reasons for the reconciliatory Israeli tone are not difficult to understand. The Israeli military is currently fighting on several fronts: to maintain the siege on the Gaza Strip, to crush Palestinian armed rebellion in the Occupied West Bank, at the Israel-Lebanon border, and even at the Israel-Syria border.

Opening yet another front at the 128-mile Egypt-Israel border would make it nearly impossible for the Israeli military to sustain all of these fronts all at once. 

Drug Bust Operation? 

Egypt’s position, however, is the one that requires further analysis. 

Almost immediately following the incident, and before any consultation or joint investigation with the Israeli side was carried out, the Egyptian military concluded that,

“At dawn on Saturday, a member of the (Egyptian) security, which is entrusted with securing the international border line, chased after members of drug smuggling (gang).

“During the chase, a member of the (Egyptian) security penetrated the security barrier and exchanged fire, which led to the death of three members of the Israeli security and the wounding of two others, in addition to the killing of a member of the Egyptian security during the fire exchange”. 

And finally,

“Currently all steps are being taken to search, inspect and secure the area, and to take the necessary legal procedures in regards to the incident.”

‘Terrorist and Dangerous’ 

Though the Israeli version of events includes a reference to a drug smuggling operation in that area, that reference seemed to play no role in why the Egyptian soldier had infiltrated the border and engaged with the Israeli military in three different incidents over the course of several hours. 

Though not wanting to escalate the situation with Egypt, the Israelis see the incident as a dangerous one. 

Netanyahu’s reference to the ‘dangerous’ incident can also be understood in more than one way: Dangerous because it led to the killing of three Israelis and the wounding of more. But also because it sets a precedent.

For years, Washington and Tel Aviv have invested large sums of money to ensure that Israel is protected from attacks targeting Israeli soldiers from the once porous Sinai desert border regions. 

The suspects of such attacks were always understood to be Sinai-based militant groups or Palestinian Resistance groups. 

Indeed, that border region is now one of the most fortified in terms of military barriers, walls, fences and the like. 

For a daring attack of this nature to be carried out by the Egyptian military itself, though in an individual capacity, is, indeed, from an Israeli point of view, very “dangerous”. 

Israel’s Netanyahu Accuses UN Nuclear Agency of ‘Capitulating’ to Iran

No Condemnation 

But there is another element to that danger, the fact that the Egyptian military did not condemn the soldier, in fact, it, though cautiously, celebrated his heroic deed of single-handedly chasing after alleged drug dealers.

Many Egyptian social media activists and bloggers referred to him as a martyr and a hero while others went as far as criticizing the Egyptian military statement for not referring to him as a ‘martyr’. 

It must be stated that if such an event had taken place years ago, before the current geopolitical shift in the world and the Middle East, and the Arab loss of appetite for more normalization with Israel, the Egyptian political discourse would have been different. 

This time around, however, the soldier is not condemned, and no ‘links’ between him and supposed ‘extremist groups’ were immediately and conveniently found.

Moreover, the Egyptian military was keen on providing its own version of events without any consultation with the Israeli side. 

Again, a precedent, and, per Netanyahu’s words, a dangerous one.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out