The city of Eilat on the Red Sea is Israel’s answer to Miami Beach; it’s the place where families come for a week of sun, sand, surf, and relaxation. Despite its close proximity to both Jordan and Egypt, Eilat is normally a peaceful and sunny resort town. But early Monday morning, the August vacationers who packed the city’s numerous hotels received a rude awakening — literally.
At 7:45 am, loud booming noises rocked the city. When the dust cleared, the tourists in Eilat learned that the harsh realities of Israel’s security threats had followed them to the country’s southernmost tip. A series of Grad rockets, which appeared to have been launched from the Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, had landed on the outskirts of the city and in the sea, none of them hitting populated buildings or causing casualties.
One rocket, however, missed its target — presuming, of course, the target was the Israeli city — and made its way over the border into Jordanian territory, with deadly results. Ynet reported:
Jordanian authorities said a Grad rocket landed near vehicles parked at the entrance to the InterContinental Hotel in Aqaba. Local media outlets reported that five people were injured in the attack. One of them, 40-year-old Subhi al-Alauna, died of his wounds several hours later.
In what can only be diagnosed as a severe case of denial and avoidance, the government of Egypt insisted that there was no way the rocket fire could have come from the Sinai, despite all evidence to the contrary, reported the Jerusalem Post:
“No rockets were launched from the Sinai,” said Egyptian sources. “To launch rockets from Egypt, it takes equipment and complicated logistical preparations. It is impossible, since the Sinai Peninsula has heavy security.”
The Egyptians didn’t state precisely where they believed the rockets had been fired from. They just declared defiantly that they weren’t fired from their country. Neither Jordan nor Israel was in a hurry to embarrass Egypt. Jordan, the country that had been hurt worst from the attack — and that seemed to be silently implicated in Egypt’s denials — bent over backwards to help the Egyptians escape both embarrassment and blame. Their government information minister and their media would only report that the rockets were fired “from outside Jordanian territory,” countering the Egyptians.
Before the precise culprit for the rockets was determined, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately hit the telephones, reaching out to Egyptian President Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah to express his concern over the situation. He stated that “all of the countries in the region who want peace need to fight against these forces in order to expel terror and bring peace closer..”
The source of the attacks is an urgent and troubling issue for Israel. If indeed, as Israeli military sources theorize, they were launched by “global jihad groups” in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, it means that another front has opened up in addition to the volatile northern border with Lebanon and the volatile relationship with Hamas-ruled Gaza. It also calls into question the extent of control that the Egyptian military actually has over the Sinai. The rocket launches confirm Israel’s fears that Hamas in Gaza has been cultivating its relationship with the Bedouin that populate the Sinai, developing the area not only as as a pipeline for smuggling weapons into Gaza, but as an additional base for violence against Israel, in defiance of the peace between Egypt and the Jewish state.
The Eilat attacks were the only latest in an escalation of rocket fire in recent days that has been worrying Israelis yet has seemed to be of little interest to the international media — far less so than the follow-up to the flotilla incident.
On Friday morning, a Grad rocket, fired from Gaza, landed in a residential section of Ashkelon, shattering windows of buildings and cars. Residents were treated for shock, but luckily there were no physical injuries.
Then on Saturday, an upgraded Kassam rocket, again launched from Gaza, hit a rehabilitation center for the disabled in the Sderot area. It was closed for the weekend, but the facilities were severely damaged, with most of the second floor destroyed.
In retaliation for these attacks, the Israeli Air Force struck smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza.
Few believe that the timing of this escalation is coincidental. In an editorial, the Jerusalem Post theorized that Hamas is sending a violent message — not only to Israel, but more emphatically to its Fatah rivals ruling the Palestinian Authority and participating in the U.S.-led indirect peace talks:
Apparently, Hamas, with adamant Iranian backing, now feels it is ready for another round of confrontation with Israel. Despite the destruction wreaked on the Hamas’s rocket production facilities during Cast Lead, and despite the blockade — which has been relaxed under international pressure in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident — Hamas has managed to manufacture rockets as well as smuggle in thousands more through underground tunnels.
It is blatantly clear that the Hamas leadership and its Iranian patron do not want stability. They do not want the PA and Israel to revive hopes among Palestinians that a readiness for reconciliation and a renewed commitment to negotiations might pay off. Rather, they are advancing the position that the only path to Palestinian self-determination is through armed struggle.
The Palestinian Authority is now under increasing pressure from the U.S. to take the fragile peace process to the next level and sit directly across the negotiating table from the Israelis. Presumably, the attacks are an attempt to throw cold water on any potential hope for progress.
Whether or not the renewed violence affects the negotiating posture of the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government remains to be seen. But there is one group that clearly remains unaffected and openly defiant in the face of the violence: Israelis determined to have their summer vacation. Israeli television on Monday showed crowded beaches and hotel pools in Eilat. Stretched on their deck chairs, the resort-goers said that they had waited all year for their summer vacation. And it would take more than a few missiles to convince them to give it up and head home.