Forces Boosted on Israel-Egypt Border Over Islamic State Threat

  • Military buildup has been in progress since deadly 2011 attack
  • Netanyahu under growing pressure over Israeli security

Israel and Egypt have bolstered military forces on either side of their desert frontier in response to increased attacks by an Islamic State-allied extremist group in Egypt’s Sinai and threats that violence may spill over the border, according to the Israeli army.

The two countries strengthened military coordination, stationed tanks closer to the border and fortified positions with better fencing, cameras and sensors, an Israeli officer said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

The military build-up has been in progress since a 2011 cross-border attack from Sinai near the southern resort town of Eilat that killed eight Israelis. A year later, Sinai militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers and stole two armored cars that they used to crash through the border gate with Israel at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

A militant group calling itself Sinai Province and allied to Islamic State regularly strikes Egyptian forces in Sinai, and claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airliner last year shortly after it took off from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh International airport, killing 224 people. The group was previously known as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis.

Sinai Province is carrying out three to four attacks a week, according to the Israeli officer, who spoke to reporters at a lookout post near the Nitzana border crossing. The Abu-Ageila road junction across the border in Egypt was the scene of major battles during wars between the two countries in 1948, 1956 and 1967.

Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, directly threatened Israel in a December speech, saying “Palestine will be your graveyard.” In a November video circulated by Islamic State, a masked gunman called on Egyptian soldiers to repent or be killed for attacking its Sinai militants. Then he says the group will soon mount attacks against Israel and uproot Jews from the Holy Land.

Under mounting criticism of his government’s handling of security, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the government would spend billions of shekels to wrap the country in an uninterrupted strip of barriers. Netanyahu outlined his plan following four months of stabbing, shooting and hit-and-run attacks by Palestinians, and reports of Gaza militants building infiltration tunnels into Israel.

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