Visiting the site of Friday’s gunbattle on the Israeli-Egyptian border that killed Cpl. Netanel Yahalomi, Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Sunday praised the soldiers’ response, which killed all three heavily-armed militants.
“We are fighters who are protecting our borders,” said Gantz, who heard a description of the brief clash from one of the women combat soldiers in the Karakal battalion that was involved in it. “There are encounters and everyone who chooses to be a combat soldier knows that this type of thing can happen,” Gantz said.
Since the Ein Netafim attack there have been at least eight violent incidents along the Egyptian border. Officers in the Southern Command say they cannot identify any common denominator among the attacks, but that it’s clear that the activity surrounding construction of the security fence along the border, expected to be completed by the end of the year, is a draw for armed men.
“The border with Sinai will continue to challenge us,” Gantz said on Sunday. “An enormous effort has been made over the past two years to close off the border, and it will be closed off, but even once it’s closed, the threat will not stop.”
Yahalomi’s was told by the IDF that their son had managed to fire at the militants before he died.
They also learned that Yahalomi had not been wearing a helmet during the incident. IDF regulations for that area do not require wearing a helmet at all times, only during operational activities such as patrols or ambushes.
A jihadist group calling itself Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis took responsibility on Sunday for the attack.
In a statement, the group said the attack was in response to the video “The Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked the prophet Mohammed. This same group claimed responsibility for the August 2011 attack at Ein Netafim along the border, in which eight Israelis were killed.
The IDF is continuing to investigate Friday’s incident at Mount Harif. Details emerging so far indicate that the armed cell from the Sinai had at first hidden in a crevice from which IDF forces could not see them. From an analysis of the field conditions a military source told Haaretz that the militants must have known that a group of African migrants was in the area, about 150 meters from them.
Col. Guy Biton, commander of the Saguy Brigade, who spoke to journalists on Saturday, said “the [armed] cell was not connected to the infiltrators. The terrorists operated totally apart from the infiltrators.”
He added, however, that the militants probably used the same or similar paths, since in the tough, hilly terrain at Mount Harif there aren’t many walkable paths.
The IDF is having difficulty determining whether the gunmen opened fire at the small force at the site because a larger force had left the area to procure water for the Africans at the border, or whether they fired simply because they saw a group of soldiers in a vulnerable position.
Biton said Saturday that he believed “there was no connection between the confrontation and the infiltrators.”