Sinai travel warning leaves most Israelis unmoved

The travel warning issued by the counter-terror authority to Israelis planning to vacation in the Sinai peninsula during the High Holy Days seems to be falling on deaf ears, as some 3,500 Israelis crossed the border into Sinai on Thursday. The travel warning issued Wednesday points to plans by Muslim extremists to target Israeli tourists in Sinai and the intelligence backing the alert is highly reliable and precise. Security sources said that Egyptian officials were not pleased with the decision to issue a travel warning. In matters having to do with Muslim terrorism, „there is full cooperation with all the relevant authorities,” the security sources said. The warnings that are received by the counter-terror authority from intelligence sources are evaluated and then passed on to the Foreign Ministry where, for the most part, they are toned down, mainly due to concerns of the broader implications of issuing such alerts. „The matter was thoroughly evaluated and this is not a decision motivated by trying to avoid responsibility,” defense sources stressed. Foreign Ministry sources said, however, that they do not see much difference between this case and previous warnings. Nonetheless, on the basis of this same intelligence, the Foreign Ministry forbade its employees from traveling to Sinai during the holiday period. But the travel warning does not bind citizens legally. It is only a „recommendation” and that seems to be how most Israelis who booked vacation packages in Sinai are approaching this latest alert. This is the first time since the outbreak of the intifada more than four years ago that the counter-terror authority has issued a travel warning for Israelis planning to visit Sinai. Compared to the large numbers of Israelis crossing the border at Taba, very few were seen coming back Thursday. This in spite of the news of the travel warning that spread throughout the various vacationing spots along the Sinai coast. The prevailing attitude of the vacationers is that security conditions in Israel pose a greater threat to their safety. The manager of the Taba crossing, Yitzhak Hai, said Thursday that he was surprised by the warning.

„I heard the travel warning in the news at 8 P.M. Until then, no one at the Foreign Ministry or the counter-terror authority considered it necessary to inform me,” Hai said. „This is not the first time, and I never received a warning prior to [that issued to] the public.” To all the callers asking for information, his answer is the same: „I cannot tell you a thing, I have no different information from that which you heard and I can only tell you that so far today, 1,500 Israelis crossed [the border].” Michael and Ilana Mizan are from Neveh Dekalim, a settlement in the Gaza Strip. They are not in agreement on whether the warning should be taken seriously. Ilana would give up the vacation in Sinai, but Michael is convinced that nothing will happen at the Hilton in Taba. „I read in the newspaper this morning [the warning] and it did scare me a bit,” Ilana said, adding that, had they booked a hotel more removed from the Israeli border, she would have canceled. The uncertainty is causing a torrent of phone calls by concerned citizens to the travel agencies. Cancellations range between 10-15 percent of the bookings, mostly people with small children, or people who have never been to Sinai. Statistics suggest that there are not many Israelis who have not been to Sinai. During the peak months of August, 13,500 people crossed into the Sinai every day, 98 percent of them Israelis. Between July and October an estimated 250,000 people cross the border at Taba, 100,000 of which arrive during the period of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Of the 100,000, half are expected to book hotels while the other half spend the night in simple huts or shacks on the beach. In the words of Irit and Dror Wald, residents of the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem, the target of Palestinian snipers during the early months of the intifada: „We have already seen it all. In Sinai we feel completely calm and safe. Even when there was shooting in Gilo, it stressed those who were not there.”