Terror Attacks Hit Israel: White House Stands United With Israel Against Terror
By Ellen Cannon
In what Israel’s Defense Minister called a “grave terrorist incident” armed Gaza militants attacked multiple targets near Eilat, killing seven and wounding more than forty. The raid, according to Israel, was perpetrated by the Popular Resistance Committees PRC), a group that has worked closely with Hamas. The attack is the latest sign of growing instability on the border with Eqypt and the most serious attack on Israel in two years.
The first in a series of attacks took place on an Egged commuter bus when gunmen got out of a car and opened fire. The attack, near the city of Eilat, resulted in Israeli special forces exchanging fire with the militants and killing one.
According to JTA reporter Macy Oster, “at the same time the vehicles near Eilat were under fire, Palestinians in Gaza fired rounds of mortar fire at Israeli soldiers working near the security fence where Gaza and Israel meet. (www.jta.org, August 18)
According to Haaretz, the incidents marked eight hours of terror. (www. haaretz.com. 8/18/11) A detailed timeline is offered by the Jerusalem Post. Starting at 12:00 P.M., three men opened fire on an Egged commuter bus traveling on Highway 12 between Eilat and Mitzpe Ramon. Bus No. 392 regularly traveled between Beersheba and the tourist resort town of Eilat. The terrorists wore military vests and were armed with assault rifles, roadside bombs and suicide bomb belts. At least 10 passengers were wounded. At 12:20, one of the terrorists opened fire at a bus driving by with no passengers and detonated an explosives belt killing himself and the bus driver. Another infiltrator fired a rocket propelled grenade at an Israel Air Force helicopter but missed. Five minutes later, at 12:25 one of the two attackers, who was still alive, opened fire at a passing car, killing four people. He then opened fire at another vehicle, killing a female driver. A jeep from the Golani Brigade arrived and as the soldiers got out of the vehicle, the last terrorist opened fire, hitting the soldiers and killing a 22 year old Sergeant Moshe Naftali of the elite Golani Brigade.
Between 12:30 and 1 P.M. soldiers and members of the police elite YAMAM Counterterrorism Unit, located the remaining attacker. A gun battle ensued and the terrorist was killed. During this time frame, the Egyptian military reported to the Israel Defense Force (IDF) that its soldiers have killed two additional terrorists in Sinai.(www.jpost.com.,8/18/11)
By 3 P.M.(E.D.T) top Israeli and American leaders addressed the gravity of the situation.
According to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “the attacks demonstrate the weakening of Egypt’s control over the Sinai Peninsula and the expansion of terrorist activity there. Barak added that “Israel’s military will retaliate against the attackers who originate in Gaza.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labeled the incident “a grave incident that struck at Israelis and the sovereignty of the state…If the terrorist organizations believe that they can attack our citizens and get away with it, they will soon learn how wrong they are. We will exact a price, a very heavy price.”
Opposition leader, Tzipi Livni called for retaliation and said her Kadima Party, “will support the government when it comes to anti-terrorism operations and closing the border.”
In Washington, the White House said in a statement, “We condemn the brutal terrorist attacks in southern Israel today in the strongest terms… The United States and Israel stand together against terror, and we hope that those behind this attack will be brought to justice swiftly.”(www.washingtonpost.com, Joel Greenberg and Leila Fadel, “Gunmen attack Israeli Bus Near Egypt Border,” 8/18/11)
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemned the attacks on Israel and urged that the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula be addressed. “Recent commitments by the Egyptian Government to address the security situation in the Sinai are important and we urge the Egyptian Government to find a lasting resolution, Clinton said. (www.npr.org. 8/18/11)
At 6 :30 P.M. Israeli time, Israel launched an air attack in the Gaza strip. Acting on intelligence provided by the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet, the Israel Air Force struck in the southern Gaza Strip, killing six Palestinians including the head of the Popular Resistance Committees and several other senior operatives which Israel says orchestrated the attacks.
According to The Jerusalem Post, “The PRC terrorists killed in the retaliatory IAF airstrike included the head of the terror group, Kamal Kirab, who the Shin Bet said, personally directed and planned the attack. Another terrorist killed in the strike was identified as Amas Hamed, commander of the PRC’s military wing and a resident of Rafah. The Shin Bet said that Hamed was involved in the abduction of soldier Gilad Schalit over five years ago and oversaw numerous terror attacks against Israel including suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Two other known PRC terrorists, including one who was also involved in Schalit’s abduction, were also killed in the airstrike. A security official said, “The terrorists were directly involved in the attacks along the Israeli-Egyptian border.” (www.npr.org.quotingThe Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.org.)
The PRC has denied taking part in the terror attack. A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, Abu Mujahid, would not comment on its alleged complicity. He threatened retaliation for the deaths of the group’s leadership. Taher Nunu, a spokesman for the for the Hamas government, denied the militants’ complicity, saying that Gaza “has nothing to do with these attacks.” (www.foxnews.com8/18/11)
Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, addressed the tense situation on NPR’s show, “All Things Considered”. According to Ambassador Oren, Israel holds Hamas responsible. “Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza; it claims sovereignty over Gaza, if you will. And this particular group, the Popular Resistance Committee, is closely aligned with Hamas – it is not a breakaway group.” Ambassador Oren stated that he does not hold Egypt responsible for the attack. However, he did state that “Israel is also concerned about the growing instability in Sinai,” noting that since the Arab Spring, Egyptian security forces have been preoccupied with keeping order in the country. (“All Things Considered” interview by Robert Siegel, of Ambassador Michael Oren, 8/18/11)
As of Thursday evening (E.D.T.) fighting continues. Shots were fired at soldiers along the Egyptian border. One soldier was seriously wounded and evacuated to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
Fox News reports that “Egypt has been conducting raids on Al-Qaeda inspired militants in Sinai who have taken advantage of the security vacuum in the area following the ouster of President Mubarak to launch increasingly brazen attacks on police patrols and a key pipeline that carries natural gas to Jordon and Israel”.(www.foxnews.com. 8/18/11)
As the situation worsens Chicago Rabbi, Asher Lopatin, who plans to move to Beersheba with his wife Rachel and their four children shortly, yearn to be in Israel to help in any way possible. In my interview with Rabbi Lopatin he said, “Each time I hear of a terror attack in Israel it makes me want to be there even more and give hope, strength, and any assistance that I can give. Instead of fear, my resolve and commitment continues to grow.” Rabbi Lopatin plans to move to Beersheba, the area in which the terror attack occurred. “My hope is to assist Beersheba become a destination city for Israel and the Middle East.” Rabbi Lopatin also noted that there is increased safety in Beersheba. The Iron Dome was moved to Beersheba recently to offer increased protection from incoming rocket attacks for the residents and community. Beersheba is also the home to Ben Gurion University and the Soroka University Medical Center.
Rabbi Lopatin is the spiritual leader of the Modern Orthodox Synagogue in Chicago, Anshi Sholom Bnai Isreal. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his family are members of the congregation. Rabbi Lopatin was named one of the top 25 Rabbis in America. In addition to his congregation and spiritual duties, Rabbi Lopatin is a Rhodes Scholar with an expertise in Moslem Thought. He is active in building Jewish- Muslim relations in Chicago and co-chairs the Jewish Muslim Community Building Initiative of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
This is a holy and solemn time for both Jews, who mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Muslims who mark Ramadan . Tonight, in the aftermath of a day of terror in Israel, Jews and Muslims come together to break their Ramadan fast after the Jewish evening prayers are said. Together each year, they come together for an Iftar meal and the rabbis and imam present views on the Bible and Koran.
Rabbi Lopatin takes a philosophical view and says, “Peace has not broken out in the world, and Jews and Israel still have our enemies who wish to destroy us at any opportunity. But at least we have come to the point where the local Jewish and Muslim communities can work together as “faith partners.” Words do mean something, and the words are sweet.”