Usually when someone in the family is talking about the threat from the south, it means the family and me are loading up the truck and going coming up north to visit.

In Israel’s case, the threat from the south is much worst than a couple of Jewish Goobers traveling north from Tennessee in a mini-van. The threat is Terrorists from the Sinai. The border with Egypt started out as place for drug smuggling but it has developed as a prime region for arming and transporting terrorists:

The Sinai Terror Threat-A misleading ‘Fata-Morgana’ of tranquil desert (from the ICT)
Dr. Gil Ariely Lt.Col. (res.) Tomer Bitzer On Monday 29th January 2007, Muhammad Saksak blew himself up in a bakery in the Israeli port city of Eilat killing himself and three other people. Responsibility for the atrocity was taken jointly by Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqtsa Martyrs organizations[1]. Saksak, according to Islamic Jihad was smuggled from Gaza to Jordan were he spent several months training. It was also in Jordan that he received the explosives that he would use in his mission before he returned to Israel. Jordanian sources have rejected these claims.[2] According to Israeli security sources Saksak entered Israel via Sinai because of the porous nature of the Israeli-Egyptian border which has no fence or barrier. [3] The Sinai terror route Saksak is not the first to exploit the breached border with Sinai. The southern border is smugglers’ arena where human-trade, merchandise and drugs smuggling infrastructure have become entwined with weapons smuggling and terror activities. Israeli security forces have apprehended many terror activists (potential suicide bombers and technical and operational experts) who have sought to cross into Israel from Gaza through the Sinai as part of a campaign to shore up terror infrastructures in Judea and Samaria. In 2006, more than a hundred terror activists were seized in this arena[4]. Moreover, Sinai is also acting as base for Global Jihad elements operating in the region in recent years, as suicide attacks within Sinai proved, adjacent to Israel non-fenced Southern border. To this end, appreciate the Sinai terrorist threat, demands an understanding of the smuggling phenomenon and infrastructure, and tendencies developed over the years in the region.
The smuggling business in Sinai When Sinai was returned to Egypt following the 1979 peace agreement, some families and tribes were divided, and for years a movement of ‘uniting families’ created almost a habit of some tribes regarding the border as practically open. The smuggling ‘business’ is indeed perceived as such by some of the Bedouin tribes, who see it as a legitimate source of livelihood. Over the years a tendency is apparent of the smuggling infrastructure used mainly for criminal activities and merchandise, turned into infrastructure for smuggling weapons and terror oriented activities. Although it may be attributed to some reduction in smuggling on the Jordanian border, and to prices fluctuations of weapons versus other merchandise due to demand-and-supply ‘hidden hand’, addressing the friction with Bedouin tribes over recent years cannot be avoided. Inadequate investment in education and infrastructure for the Bedouin tribes, and a possible tendency to ‘get closer’ to religion in recent years led fractions of the Bedouin population towards a detached rather than entwined approach to the state. The smugglers are well acquainted with the terrain and the territory as well as with the regular activity of Israeli security forces on the border, proving a fast learning curve and adaptation to changes. It is that smuggling infrastructure that is being used by terror activists. A principal destination for weapons and terror-activists smuggling is Judea and Samaria. Since smuggling through ports or through the Gaza fence proves difficult, weapons and ammunition price in Judea and Samaria rises, and the journey of weapons (smuggled into Sinai from other countries), starts its course at the southern Egyptian Israeli fenceless border. However, it is not just weapons that are smuggled – but rather the knowledge of how to manufacture and use it.
The smuggling evolution- from drugs to knowledge An evolution is apparent over the years in the smuggling business in Sinai – from smuggling drugs to smuggling weapons, and then to smuggling operational knowledge. Firstly there is an evolution in the constant learning of the nature of the regular forces activity along the border, in the usage of apparatus and vehicles. Secondly, the smugglers changed the nature of what is being smuggled; moving from merely drugs, tobacco and human traffic to include weapons. Understanding it is easier to move the tacit knowledge on weapons usage and manufacture – they smuggle terror activists as ‘experts’ towards Judea and Samaria. And it is so much more effective to seize a ‘Kassam’ rocket expert passing the Sinai border – than stopping his students in Judea and Samaria from firing it soon enough on Kfar-Saba. Sinai as transit- the ‘U’ route Understanding the Sinai terror threat demands elaboration of the Sinai transit route, ‘U’ shaped (referred to as ‘Het’ route due to letter shape in Hebrew). The two legs of the ‘U’ are used differently: Exploiting the “Philadelphi Route” (Egyptian – Gaza border) for terrorist activity- Following IDF’s withdrawal from the “Philadelphi Route” in September 2005, it turned into a smuggling route for weapons and operatives. The terrorist organizations exploit it in building up capabilities in the Gaza Strip, smuggling in operatives and explosives experts through the ‘U’/“Het” Route, and transferring funds and knowledge to the terrorist organizations.[5] The channels to Gaza include an elaborated tunnel system dug, the Rafah border passage, and above ground- in places where fence was not preserved. Exploiting the ‘Fenceless Border’ between Egypt and Israel- as elaborated above, the smuggling ‘business’ exploits the nonexistent fence and creates the second leg of the ‘U’ route. The ‘U’ route may be differentiated to a “Short U” (out of Gaza and into Nitzana area), “Medium U’ (out of Gaza and into the Faran area), and the “Long U” (to Eilat region). All three are characterized by different topography, smugglers transport and methods used, and sometimes even types of merchandize. The dynamic approach and learning curve of smugglers aims to identify and exploit gaps in security efforts along the border. Global Jihad Sinai has also become an important base for Global Jihadist elements operating in the region. Amongst others the AlTawahid and AlJihad who pledged allegiance to Bin Laden and Al Qaida and were responsible to the large terror-attacks in Taba (2004), Sharm a Sheik (2005) and Dahab (2006). Thus, terror attacks by Global Jihad are not a matter of capability, as these suicide attacks within Sinai proved, adjacent to Israel non-fenced Southern border. Sinai is acting both as springboard and as a target for terror – aimed at the Egyptian regime’s interests (such as international tourism). The suicide attack on the Hilton Taba (collapsing part of the hotel), with simultaneous attacks at Ras-a-Satan in Sinai, was conducted on the Egyptian ‘Sinai day’ marking Sinai’s ‘peaceful liberation’ and thus incorporates a message. Only Sunday, 15th January 2007, Egyptian security forces located more than 720 Kilos of explosives belonging to the organization’s operatives of which some were already arranged in packs and connected to detonators.[6] It is not just organizations (Palestinian and Global Jihad) elements that are aware of the breached border in Sinai. As recently as 27th January 2007, Egyptian security forces stopped Abd El Rahman Magdi from Alexandria whilst he was on his way to Gaza. Before leaving home, Magdi left a letter to his family claiming an intention to conduct a suicide attack upon an Israeli target. [7] Criminal activities and security A decline in drugs and goods smuggled may be due to effectiveness by Israeli measures, or rather an effective learning curve by smugglers of Israeli activity along the border. In 2005, about 7 tons of Marihuana were seized, compared with 5 tons in 2006 and about 1.5 tons in 2007. Smuggling of tobacco and cigarettes also declined from 64.5 tons in 2005 to 12.5 tons in 2006 and about 6 tons in 2007. Such a volume of criminal activity and of drugs being smuggled, directly affects public security. The impudence of Bedouin smugglers grows rapidly and poses direct threat to uninvolved civilians, in broad daylight. Such is also the case regarding Israeli military and police forces operating along the border. Until recent understanding of the inter-organizational effort and approach required- a tobacco smuggler might have been seized by the military, and released by the police since it is a customs’ offence. However, the very same smuggler might lead the following night a weapons shipment or a terrorist on his way to a suicide attack. Confronting the threat The trend towards entwining criminal activities and smuggling with terrorist activities was identified years ago by regional commanders. The vision of the threat derived from using that infrastructure, and understanding the opponent ‘Modus Operandi’ started at the time of Brig.Gen. Shmuel Zakay who served as regional division commander. Indeed this was reason for introducing border-patrol elements into the region (of policing authority), under regional military command. Over recent years, a conceptual change in operational approach in the region led to many successes, maximizing the existing resources, out of deep awareness and understanding of the threats. Inter-organizational cooperation is a requisite to cope with operational successful results. The smuggling infrastructure is used for either criminal or customs offences – not just for weapons smuggling or for terror activists. Indeed one cannot say that the suicide attack was unexpected in whole. Brig. Gen. Imad Faris, who described the border as lacking any “mental or physical barrier”, conducted with the regional division a major exercise of a terrorist attack similar to the suicide bombing in Eilat, just a few weeks before it. The “Hourglass” plan presented by the IDF in 2005 to Prime Minister Sharon, [8]called for the erection of an electronic fence along the 220 kilometer border with Egypt. Sharon called for the establishment of a fence at least in the 50 kilometer area near Eilat. Implementing operational solutions recommended by regional security forces requires resources and attention – even at times where fluctuations in public attention draw elsewhere. The tendency proven in recent years through terror attacks, that originated from or through Sinai – shows that Israel’s ‘Hourglass’ is running out in this sensitive region. This is true both for Palestinian terror through the ‘U’ route, and for Global Jihad. Cooperation with Egypt, as well as international pressure to realize its responsibility in Sinai, does not reduce Israel’s need to prevent, and if needed to “unilaterally cooperate” in response to terrorist attacks. [9] Israel must implement decisions already taken and operational solutions recommended, such as for the physical barrier at least around Eilat, strengthening both security and awareness of security (as part of public resilience) exemplifying both to the tourist sector so prominent to the city. Summary The tranquil nature of the Sinai desert and fenceless ‘peace border’ are a misleading ‘Fata-Morgana’ as to the nature of the terror threat in Sinai. The attention (and resources) needed to secure the border are not yet allocated – as attention in Israel is scarce and temporary, thus drawn elsewhere. The strategic price of alternative cost must not be awaited – in the next terror attack in Eilat. Furthermore, the threat to security due to the smuggling infrastructure and the volume of drugs should not be ignored – as they pose a threat to sovereignty along the Sinai breached border. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] See Ariely & Fighel (2004) “‘Unilateral Cooperation’ in response to terrorist attacks – the Sinai terror attacks as a case-study”.〈=en&act=page&id=5526&str=Gil%20Ariely