Israel is bracing for an Islamic State (ISIS) terror attack along its southern border with Egypt within the next six months, a senior Israeli military officer has warned.
Wilayat Sinai, the jihadist group’s affiliate in the Sinai desert, has been stealing armored vehicles and anti-tank missiles from Egypt’s military and Israeli expects the weapons will soon be turned against its forces on the Egyptian border.
The Israeli officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The UK Telegraph that Wilayat Sinai had stolen at least one Egyptian M60 battle tank and had amassed a supply of Russian-made Kornet missiles, which can strike targets more than three miles away.
“It could happen today, tomorrow, in a month but within the next six months we will come into an engagement with Wilayat Sinai,” the officer said. “In the next six months they will try to carry out an attack and try to do something against Israel.”
If the officer’s prediction is borne out it would be the first attack on Israel’s southern border since 2012, when militants in Egypt launched a series of cross border raids.
At the time of the 2012 attack, the group was known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the Supporters of Jerusalem, and was linked with al-Qaeda. But in 2014 the group pledged allegiance to ISIS and to the leader of its so-called caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
It took up the name Wilayat Sinai, meaning the Sinai province of the Islamic State. The group claimed responsibility for bombing the Russian Metrojet plane in October 2015, killing all 224 people aboard shortly after it took off from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Israel believes that the group is significantly better equipped now than it was four years ago.
Zack Gold, non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Centre, said the “worst case scenario” for Israel was a cross-border raid in which Wilayat Sinai was able to capture Israelis and bring them back over the border.
Such an operation would force Israel to launch retaliatory or rescue missions into the Sinai, either with Egypt’s permission or without it.
“Either way it would be very bad for relations and you would probably see protests in Cairo if there was an Israeli operation in the Sinai.”
In the years since the 2012 attack Wilayat Sinai has focused its efforts on attacking Egyptian military targets, although more recently it has also carried out attacks against civilians.
Egypt’s military responded with a series of operations that have limited the group’s operating space but it remains active in the eastern Sinai. Israel and Egypt work closely together on counter-terror operations in the Sinai.
ISIS regularly threatens to carry out attacks against Israel and in August Wilayat Sinai said the group planned attacks against the Jewish state.
“Oh Jews, wait for us. The punishment is severe and soon you will pay a high price,” a jihadist said in an online video.
But for all its rhetoric, ISIS has so far not carried out any centrally organized attacks on Israel. While some “lone wolf” Palestinian attackers may have been inspired by the jihadist group, there has been no equivalent of the attacks in Europe against Israel.
In an article published in an ISIS newspaper in March of this year, a writer argued that the fight against Israel should not be prioritised over the battle against Arab regimes which do not enforce the jihadists’ extremist beliefs.
The Israeli army officer said he felt Wilayat Sinai would eventually come under pressure to carry out its threats against Israel.
“Many terrorist organizations use Israel as a prop but, for these statements to have any content or not be seen as empty, something must eventually happen in the field,” he said.