Israel On Edge as 25 Policemen Killed in Sinai Escalation of Violence

August 19, 2013

5 min read

Rafah

In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 19:1)

Rafah
25 policemen were killed execution style in a militant ambush in the Egyptian border-town of Rafah on Sunday. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Two mini-buses carrying off-duty police officers were ambushed by suspected terrorists on Sunday in northern Sinai, according to The Times of Israel. The Times reports that 25 officers were murdered execution-style and two others were wounded in the attack, according to security officials. The militants forced the two vehicles to stop, ordered the policemen out and forced them to lie on the ground before they shot them to death, the officials said.

The policemen were in civilian clothes, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media. The killings took place near the border town of Rafah. Terrorists have been using the area for years to smuggle weapons and other contraband across the border into Gaza and Israel.

Despite having made no official statement as of yet about the ongoing bloodbath taking place within the confines of their southern neighbors, an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity, Israel has reportedly decided to step up its efforts to pressure the US and the EU to to back the Egyptian military government, according to the New York Times.

The official denied claims that Israel’s involvement was “undercutting” Western diplomatic efforts in Cairo and said that, for now, the choice in Egypt was “army or anarchy.”

“We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative?” the official was quoted as saying. “If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.”

According to The Times of Israel, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who orchestrated the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi, has cultivated close ties with Israel. The 58-year-old general and his close circle, the report said, have kept in close contact with Israel even as fighting erupted on the streets of Cairo, killing 173 over the weekend and, all told, over 800 people since Wednesday’s dismantling of two encampments of Morsi supporters in Cairo — an act that sparked fierce clashes.

The Israeli official who spoke to The New York Times said that Israeli ambassadors would work to convince foreign ministers across Europe that the military-backed government in Cairo was the only way to prevent Egypt from falling even deeper into chaos.

America has been torn thus far in how to react to the Egyptian chaos. According to the Times, Members of Congress are split over whether the US should cut off military aid to Egypt, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration amid spiraling violence on the streets of an important Middle East ally.

Despite enjoying relatively united support from the Democrats, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that he would vote to cut aid to the Egyptians. “I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before,” Ellison said. “In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said funding for Egypt remains under review, the Times report continues. “As we’ve made clear, all of our assistance to Egypt is currently under review, and we will consider additional steps as we deem necessary,” Hayden said. “At this point, no additional decisions have been made regarding assistance. That review process is ongoing.”

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The Republican party is far more fractured with regard to the conflict. While many Republicans have voiced their support for cutting aid to Egypt, some are a bit more hesitant to such a rash move. Congressman Pete King said curtailing aid could reduce US influence over Egypt’s interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal. “We certainly shouldn’t cut off all aid,” said King, who chairs the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.

King said there are no good choices in Egypt. Ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy. “The fact is, there’s no good guys there,” King said. “But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military.”

President Obama has denounced the violence, canceled joint military exercises scheduled for September and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets. But the White House has refused to declare Morsi’s removal a coup, a step that would require Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid. The president insists that the US stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government. But he says America cannot determine Egypt’s future.

Also on Sunday, the European Union announced it would urgently review its relationship with Egypt, the Times of Israel reported. The presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, said Sunday in a rare joint foreign policy statement that it was the responsibility of the army and the interim government to end the violence.

They said calls for democracy and fundamental rights “cannot be disregarded, much less washed away in blood,” adding that “the violence and the killings of these last days cannot be justified nor condoned.”

EU foreign ministers were expected to hold an emergency meeting on Egypt this week. The bloc is a major source of aid and business for Egypt.

According to the Times, the Egyptian government has already rejected the EU’s announcement with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy cautioning against the “internationalization” of the crisis in his country, emphasizing that it was an internal affair, and boldly suggesting that Egypt could do without EU help. “I want to determine what is useful and what is not and what aid is being used to pressure Egypt and whether this aid has good intentions and credibility,” Fahmy told reporters in Cairo. “We are not looking to replace one friend with another but we will look out to the world and continue to establish relations with other countries so we have options.

With both organizations somewhat conflicted, Israel will work hard to bring them both to their side in supporting the military government and squashing the threat festering along its southern border.

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