Fears have been raised that Eilat’s status as a tourist destination could be in jeopardy if the terror attacks that took place this week continue.
Rocket fire from jihadists over the border in Egypt and the temporary closure of the city’s airport after a warning about a possible missile attack on an airline, left tourists and residents shaken.
Tal Choresh, director of marketing at the Eilat Municipal Tourism Corporation, said that more terrorist activity “will create a problem. No one wants to kick back in a threatened area”.
Air-raid sirens sounded in Eilat on Tuesday night as the Iron Dome missile defence system was deployed to protect the city for the first time. The incoming rockets were successfully intercepted.
Mr Choresh admitted that the air raid siren caused “discomfort and panic”. He added, however: “I didn’t witness any change in routine — not at the hotels, commerce, the beaches, promenades and the attractions.”
British-born Antony Gibbons, a builder who has been living in Eilat since 2008, said: “Sirens and the explosions woke me up. Obviously it doesn’t feel as safe as it did. There was a time when a rocket attack in Eilat was unheard of. I’m still in touch with friends who have left Eilat due to the rocket attacks, about 20 in all.”
While Israeli defence officials insisted that it is still perfectly safe to holiday at the seaside town, there is growing concern in Israel over the large jihadi presence in Sinai. Last Friday, a terror cell erecting a missile launcher in northern Sinai, near Rafah, was attacked and eliminated from the air.
“Our working assumption is that there is terror in Sinai that can try to attack again,” said Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday. He added: “The local residents and tourists don’t have to change their routine. That’s why we put the Iron Dome battery there a month ago.”
The minister also complimented the “Egyptian army and security forces who are acting to smoke out the nests of terror there [in Sinai]”, but was careful not to mention the fact that it was an intelligence failure on the part of the Egyptians that allowed jihadists to fire the missile.
Both Israelis and Egyptians are saying as little as possible about the intelligence and security co-operation. That co-operation was directly connected both to last week’s airport closure and the Israeli strike near Rafah, but the fact that terrorists still managed to fire a missile towards Eilat proves just how elusive and well-entrenched the jihadis are.
Eilat Airport remained open this week and Israeli officials insisted that it was not dangerous to fly there. But the security situation on the Egyptian side of the border is highly volatile. The Egyptian campaign against the Sinai jihadists, now in its third year, has evolved into a series of hit-and-run attacks and Israel may be forced to make incursions into Egyptian territory.