Israel reinforces border amid fears Egyptian Isis affiliate could siege Gaza

Israel's military has raised its alert level along the border with Egypt's restive Sinai region, where Isis militants killed at least 17 soldiers yesterday, amid fears that the group could threaten the country's security and even launch an attempt to take control of the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian military claimed that 17 soldiers were killed in raids by Isis affiliate, known as Sinai Province, formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, on a number of military checkpoints in the region, while 100 militants also died. Egyptian security sources told Reuters that the number of Egyptian soldiers and police killed in the attacks was actually much higher, likely in the dozens.

In reaction to the attacks, the largest coordinated attack in the Sinai region since 1973, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has deployed additional troops to the border and raised the alert level along its southern border with Egypt, the Times of Israel reported.

The increased security measures were implemented over concerns of border infiltration by the radical Islamist militants and potential abduction attempts, military sources told the Israeli news outlet.

The move was taken a day after the Israeli Defence Ministry chose to close the borders crossings into Egypt and the Gaza Strip, Nitzana and Kerem Shalom respectively. The Kerem Shalom crossing was today reopened.

Major (ret.) Aviv Oreg, former head of the IDF's 'Al Qaeda and Global Jihad' desk and founder of investigative consulting firm CeifiT, says that the Israeli military has taken the measures after the Isis-affiliate's successful attacks as "they have Israeli territory in mind all the time".

"Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has a past record of conducting attacks successfully against Israel at its borders," he says. "They are able and they have a lot of military capabilities. They have Israeli territory in mind all the time. This is the reason that Israel has tightened security measures along the border."

Another former IDF member of personnel, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland (ret.), Israeli's former national security chief, said that there is now a "real concern" that the Isis-affiliate could make an attempt to siege the Gaza Strip and overthrow the ruling Hamas faction. However, Oreg believes that the jihadists are more likely to drag Hamas into another round of conflict as opposed to toppling them.

"[Sinai Peninsula] are still small but Hamas started being very small and they did capture Gaza. However, their support is limited," says Oreg. "Hamas are concerned that the group could drag them into a conflict that they do not really want to get engaged in at this stage."

Despite fears that the Isis-affiliate could launch a campaign to take Gaza, Egyptian and Israeli defence sources today told Israeli daily Haaretz that Hamas and the group have formed an informal alliance. The sources claim that Hamas provides medical care for wounded Sinai militants in Gaza while the Sinai group hosts weapons caches for Hamas and helps to smuggle them into the coastal enclave.

Following the wave of attacks yesterday, an Egyptian military spokesman, Brig-Gen Mohammed Samir, claimed that the security situation in the Sinai was "100% under control", in comments made to state TV, although air strikes against militant positions continued into the early hours of this morning.

The radical Islamist group, formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has increased its attacks on Egyptian authorities following the overthrow of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, by his successor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in July 2013.

A spokesperson from the IDF was not immediately available for comment.

Israel reinforces border amid fears Egyptian Isis affiliate could siege Gaza |