Egyptian security officials alleged that an Israeli drone strike today killed five jihadists near Rafah. “The officials say the attack was in cooperation with Egyptian authorities,” the Associated Press reported. The jihadists were reportedly preparing to fire rockets toward Israel, according to Ma’an News Agency.
Agence France Presse cautioned that “[t]he source of the strike was not immediately clear.” Turkish news agencies reported that Egyptian helicopters had carried out the attack that killed the jihadists. The Times of Israel similarly reported, based on comments from an Egyptian official, that “the strike was carried out by the Egyptian military, and not the IDF.”
An Israeli official, however, reportedly confirmed to ABC News that Israel was responsible for the strike. Five Egyptian sources told Reuters that Israel was responsible for the strike, which they said killed four jihadists, not five.
A statement released by the Egyptian army shortly after reports emerged said that an incident had occurred about 1.8 miles from the country’s eastern border and that authorities were looking into the exact details. A couple of hours later, the army released a new statement, which said the incident was still being investigated but that reports suggesting an Israeli drone was responsible were false.
“The claim that there is coordination between the Egyptian and Israeli sides on this matter is totally false and contrary to reason and logic,” an army spokesman said.
Long War Journal efforts to garner a response from IDF spokespeople were unsuccessful. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, an IDF spokesman said that “the army was not responding to the reports.”
Today’s incident comes a day after Israeli authorities closed Eilat’s airport for a few hours due to a security assessment. Egyptian officials today said that a warning from them regarding plots by jihadists in the Sinai was shared with Israeli officials and led to the airport closure.
Israeli authorities have previously expressed concern that jihadists may try to target planes landing and taking off from the airport.
On Aug. 3, al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya in Sinai issued a statement alleging that Israeli drones were operating in the Sinai. According to the statement, the Egyptian army has allowed “Egypt’s airspace to be open to the spy planes of the Zionist enemy.” In recent days, “Zionists drones were spotted roaming the skies over El Arish and El Sheikh Zeweid, and the spy planes fired rockets at will at any target in North Sinai,” the statement said.
Last week’s statement was at least the second time that al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya has charged that Israeli drones are operating over the Sinai. In October 2012, the group made the claim in a statement posted to jihadist forums.
On Aug. 5, the Egyptian army issued a statement denouncing the claims of the Salafi jihadist group. In the statement, an army spokesman said that such reports were false and that the army would not allow the violation of its airspace or sovereignty.
Although the southern Israeli city of Eilat has not normally been a target of rocket fire from terror groups in the region, it has increasingly come under fire during the past two years. On Nov. 20, 2012, Ansar Jerusalem claimed to have fired rockets at Eilat, according to a statement that was obtained and translated by SITE. The same group also took responsibility for a rocket attack on Eilat in mid-August 2012.
More recently, in early July, Ansar Jerusalem issued a statement claiming responsibility for the firing of two rockets toward Eilat. Prior to that, in April, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on Eilat.