The intelligence community (the IDF'S intelligence branch and the Shin Bet security service) had received warnings regarding plans by Salafist and Jihadist organizations to launch rockets toward Eilat, and apparently toward Aqaba as well. The groups, which have established themselves in Sinai, are hostile to the regime in Jordan almost as much as they are hostile to Israel.
In light of the warnings, received over the course of a few weeks ahead of Wednesday's attack on Eilat, the IDF deployed an Iron Dome missile defense battery near Israel's southernmost city - the fifth Iron Dome battery made operational since Operation Pillar of Defense. The battery has the ability to intercept long-range Fajr-type rockets, as well as homemade Palestinian projectiles.
However, despite this capability, the Iron Dome system failed to intercept the rockets fired at Eilat, despite the fact that its radar system detected the incoming rockets and transmitted warning signals. Now the security establishment and Rafael (defense systems company) must determine why the system was not triggered despite the fact that at least one of the rockets landed in a populated area in the city. Iron Dome should have detected this and intercepted the rocket. The system itself was found to be intact.
This week's incident was not the first in which rockets were fired from Sinai at Eilat and its surroundings as part of the Salafist groups' efforts to showcase their abilities, partly in order in order to receive funding from Iran, or because their commanders in Gaza ordered them to launch rocket attacks.
Terror organizations operating out of Gaza prefer to have the Salafist groups launch rockets from Sinai. This way, they do not always have to fire rockets at Israel directly from Gaza and face criticism from the regime in Cairo.
Cairo is pressuring Hamas to fully abide by the understandings reached with Israel – under Egypt's mediation – following Operation Pillar of Defense. The Hamas regime in Gaza complies with the demand as it is highly dependent on Egypt.
However, every now and then rebellious organizations, mainly Salafist, fire rockets at Israel. These attacks are followed by Hamas operations to arrest members of these organizations. This is the reason Salafist and Jihadist leaders in Gaza are increasing their pressure on members of the organization who are based in Sinai to launch attacks on Israel.
Rocket that landed in Eilat Wednesday (Photo: Meir Ohayon)
Over the past two years Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has become a lawless territory. Egypt's army and security forces are trying to restore order and fight the armed terror groups in the area, as well as curtail the smuggling of arms to Gaza. So far they have not been very successful. Egypt has managed to more or less maintain the rule of law in the area of Sinai's east coast, where the Bedouin Tarabin tribe wants to make sure that tourism is not hurt, but in central Sinai the Egyptian forces are all but helpless. The rocket attack on Eilat this week apparently emanated from central Sinai.
In central Sinai, Egyptian forces are able to uncover weapons caches from time to time, but the Salafist and Jihadist groups combat the Egyptian army and police and are able to occasionally hijack military vehicles and weapons and use them to carry out terror attacks and avoid Israeli tracking devices. It appears that the inclement weather on Wednesday also helped the rocket launchers avoid the tracking devices.
This situation requires a swift solution, because those who fired the rockets from central Sinai may also fire shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from the mountainous region near Eilat. The security fence in the area, which will be completed soon, cannot prevent the firing of rockets or anti-aircraft missiles. Another issue that is making it difficult to deal with the rocket threat is that Israel does not want to undermine Egypt's sovereignty by operating in Sinai.
Israel and Egypt may have to reach a secret agreement in order to stop the terror emanating from Sinai.