Daily Israel Report

Eilat Rocket Attacks Show How Hamas Uses Sinai

Monday’s rocket attacks on Eilat and Jordan serve as a warning of how Hamas can take advantage of the Sinai Peninsula.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 8/4/2010, 3:50 AM / Last Update: 8/4/2010, 3:45 AM

At 8 a.m. on Monday morning, residents of Eilat reported hearing loud blasts as five rockets hit the city, two of which exploded in open areas and three fell into the sea. No injuries were reported. A rocket also hit Aqaba, Jordan, exploding next to a local hotel. One person was killed and three others were wounded.

It is believed that the rockets were shot by Hamas terrorists from the Sinai Peninsula, although Egypt has denied this. If true, these attacks (which are the second of their kind in less than four months) are proof that Hamas is able to use the Sinai Peninsula to its advantage and attack Israel.

The shared Israel-Egypt border along the Sinai Peninsula has been used by local Bedouins to smuggle things such as drugs, African migrants, and even weapons from the Gaza Strip. Weapons can be smuggled by Hamas and its Bedouin partners into the Sinai Peninsula through the underground tunnels which have been dug. Israeli officials have long been concerned that since the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip is closed, making it harder to fire rockets on Israel from within the Strip, Hamas terrorists would exit Gaza through the tunnels, enter Sinai, travel to the Israel-Sinai border and fire rockets into Israeli territory. Monday’s attack seems to have proven that this is indeed possible.

Furthermore, Egypt’s lack of control over the local Bedouins and their Hamas partners makes thus method of attack easy to carry out. As Ronen Bergman, a security commentator for Yediot Ahronot, said during a conversation with The Christian Science Monitor: "The farther from Cairo, the weaker the central authority is. They are having great difficulties with the Bedouin. If Hamas is able to deepen its cooperation with the Bedouin, and create bases in Sinai for recruitment, we're talking about a new ballgame."

Sinai has historically been both a popular vacation spot as well as a site of terrorist attacks. In October 2004, 34 people, including 13 Israelis, were killed in terrorist attacks targeting the Hilton Hotel in Taba and campsites in Ras a-Sutan, further to the south. A year later, 88 people were killed in several bombing attacks in the southern Sinai city of Sharm el-Sheikh, and in April 2006, over 20 people were killed in bombings in the resort town of Dahab. In 2008, Egyptian security forces found a car bomb bound for a tourist site in the Peninsula.

While these past attacks have been attributed to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, who operate in Egypt assisted by local Bedouins, there is now a genuine concern that Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is also seeking to expand its militant infrastructure into Sinai, and that it has all the necessary tools in its disposal to achieve this goal.

Despite concerns by Israel and Jordan that Monday’s attack indeed came from Egyptian territory, analysts have speculated that it is unlikely that either will publicly call Egypt to task on this. On Monday, the day of the attack, it was reported that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak over the phone, and the two continued their consultations over the Middle East peace process.

On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Egypt, where he spoke with Mubarak on the efforts to relaunch the peace process.