A rare incident on the Israeli side of the border with Egypt resulted in the death of three Israeli soldiers, allegedly killed by an Egyptian security officer. The armed forces of both nations are jointly investigating the unusual occurrence. Egypt claims that the officer crossed into Israel while pursuing drug traffickers. The Israeli military believes the shootings are linked to a drug smuggling operation that they had disrupted overnight.
Early on Saturday morning, two Israeli soldiers, a male and female, were found dead in a remote location along the border. Their bodies were discovered after a senior officer could not reach them via radio. Hours later, during a search operation, the suspected attacker was cornered, leading to a shootout. A third soldier was killed, along with the gunman, identified as an Egyptian policeman. Another soldier was wounded during the exchange.
The Egyptian military released a statement, stating that their security officer was chasing drug smugglers and that a shooting led to the Israeli deaths. The statement also expressed “sincere condolences” to the victims’ families. The Israeli military seized contraband worth approximately US$400,000 during the overnight operation against smugglers. Soldiers continue to search the area for any other individuals involved.
The exact location of the attacks is unclear, but Israeli media reports suggest they occurred between Mount Harif and Mount Sagi in the Negev desert, roughly halfway between the Mediterranean coast and the Red Sea Egyptian resort of Eilat. Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht told journalists, “Co-operation with the Egyptians is ongoing, it’s good. This is not geopolitical.”
This incident marks one of the most severe border incidents since Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Despite the often-cited “cold peace” between the two countries in recent years, they have closely cooperated on military and intelligence matters, particularly counter-terrorism. The Israeli air force has supported the Egyptian army in its battle against the so-called Islamic State militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
In 2012, a significant infiltration attempt took place when militants attacked an Egyptian checkpoint near Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip. The assailants killed 16 Egyptian policemen and stole two armoured cars, which they used to breach the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel. After a firefight, Israel reported finding the bodies of eight attackers.
Over the past decade, Israel has constructed a tall border fence to deter militants and prevent people-smuggling from Egypt, particularly migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. However, drug smuggling attempts in the region remain frequent. The border spans approximately 255 kilometres, making it challenging for security patrols. In recent years, there have been several incidents of gunfire between smugglers and Israeli soldiers. The Egyptian army has also fired at drug smugglers and jihadists, occasionally resulting in accidental cross-border fire. In December last year, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a suspect allegedly attempting to smuggle drugs into Israel.
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