TEL AVIV – Israel is preparing for a scenario in which hundreds of terrorists armed with high trajectory fire as well as anti-tank missiles attack from Sinai, the outgoing commander of the IDF’s Sagi Brigade said this week.
Col Yehuda HaCohen, in charge of the brigade stationed on the 105-mile stretch between the Sinai Peninsula and Israel, told Hebrew-language daily Maariv that his division has witnessed new threats coming from Sinai including the proliferation of terrorists associated with the Islamic State and an increase in cross-border smuggling.
HaCohen, who is about to begin his studies at the National Security College, said the lack of governance in the area has resulted in the Sinai becoming “a breeding ground for terror.”
The presence of Islamic State elements in recent years has changed the Sinai, though HaCohen asserts that in the meantime the extremists have not set their sights on Israel but instead are working on purging out infidels from their midst.
“IS has set out first to purify themselves while expanding their territory. They act as if they are in the Middle Ages. They occupy territories and publicly behead those who don’t join, the rest automatically join,” he said.
“They control lots of resources such as gas and they traffic people. They sell people into slavery, buying weapons with the money,” he added.
Egypt’s fears regarding the presence of the terror group in its country were exacerbated after the downing of the Russian plane, which IS claimed responsibility for.
HaCohen noted that even though they only number about 1,000 members, they commit attacks against Egypt almost daily.
“The Egyptians are actively working against them but they are still succeeding in larger attacks,” he said, adding that while the terrorists are using sophisticated methods, Egypt is “stuck in 1973.”
But, he continued, Egypt has upped its game significantly because it understands it must defeat the terrorists for two primary reasons: The first is to prevent IS jihadists from entering Egypt proper and the second is the country cannot risk losing its status as leader of the Muslim world – a status which Turkey is vying for.
However, HaCohen notes, the moment IS starts turning its attention to Israel it doesn’t stand a chance.
“What they need to understand with us is that soon we will have the F-35, putting an end to all their fantasies,” HaCohen said, referring to the stealth fighter that has been dubbed a “lethal, hitech wonder weapon.”
“The story will end with the F-35,” he added.
HaCohen was quick to point out that the preparations being carried out by the IDF in the event of a confrontation with IS are on a different level to the internal threats the country faces with Palestinian terror.
“We aren’t only watching and analyzing them, we are preparing out troops. This isn’t like the stabbings at the Damascus Gate, these scenarios involve hundreds of terrorists shooting, with high trajectory fire as well as anti-tank missiles,” he said.
HaCohen says that even though the terror group’s presence isn’t large in Sinai, it has been relatively successful.
“If there was an IS competition for which region is best, they would win. They have succeeded in a remarkable number of attacks, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured,” he said.
The terror group’s attempts to rule over the Bedouins though, have largely failed. According to HaCohen, the “drug trade in the Sinai is very lucrative, and the Bedouins are not willing to give this up so easily.”
HaCohen said that even though Egypt is getting better at fighting IS, there is little doubt the terror group will eventually zero in on Israel.
“They say to themselves: ‘first we will finish the infidels, than we will take care of the dogs’…We are a notch below the infidels,” he said, adding that until now they’ve refrained from attacking largely due to deterrence.