At about 1 a.m. on Tuesday, at least one rocket was fired toward the southern Israeli city of Eilat. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted one rocket, and authorities are searching the area for any additional strikes.
The interception was “the first time the Iron Dome system has intercepted a rocket over” Eilat, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. Israeli authorities had moved an Iron Dome battery to Eilat in mid-July due to concerns regarding the situation in the Sinai peninsula.
The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), a consortium of Salafi jihadist groups based primarily in the Gaza Strip, took responsibility for the attack in a statement released to jihadist forums on Aug. 13. The MSC said it fired the Grad rocket in response to the recent killing of four members of the Sinai-based Ansar Jerusalem jihadist group.
In addition, the MSC boasted that Israelis were forced to run to shelters. The statement warned that Eilat and other cities in Israel will not enjoy security and that “the Jews” will “pay dearly” for killing “the mujahideen.”
The rocket attack on Eilat comes just a few days after four members of the Salafi jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem were killed as they were preparing to fire rockets toward Israel. While jihadist groups, including the MSC, have contended that the four jihadists were killed as a result of an Israeli drone strike in cooperation with Egyptian authorities, conflicting statements have emerged from Egyptian sources. Additionally, Israeli officials have remained relatively mum.
On Aug. 10, Hussein Ibrahim Salem al Tihi, from the Tiyaaha tribe, and Yusri Muhaareb al Saraarkah, Ibrahim Khalaf al Munei’I, and Muhammad Hussein al Munei’i, all from the Sawaarkah tribe, were buried following an extensive funeral procession. Some of the slain jihadists were wrapped in al Qaeda flags, while vehicles in the procession had the black flags attached as well.
Last week, Israeli authorities closed Eilat’s airport for a few hours due to a security assessment. Egyptian officials subsequently claimed that a warning from them regarding plots by jihadists in the Sinai had been 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.
Although 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 claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on Eilat.
Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) is a consolidation of a number of Salafi jihadist groups operating in the Gaza Strip including, but not limited to: Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ansar al Sunnah. Sheikh Anas Abdul Rahman, one of the group’s leaders, has said that the group aims to “fight the Jews for the return of Islam’s rule, not only in Palestine, but throughout the world.”
The MSC has taken responsibility for a number of rocket attacks against Israel, as well as the June 18, 2012 attack that killed one Israeli civilian. The group said the attack was “a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri” and retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden. In early February 2013, the MSC released a martyrdom video branding one of the terrorists killed in the June 2012 attack as an al Qaeda “martyr.”
On Oct. 22, 2012, the MSC released a 32-minute-long video detailing some of its rocket attacks against Israel and threatening to “fight you [Israel] as long as we hold…weapons in our hands.” In November 2012, the group carried out joint rocket attacks with the Army of Islam. Following the institution of a ceasefire that ended Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the MSC said that it was not truly a party to the ceasefire.
Over the past two years, the Israeli Air Force has targeted a number of MSC members. On Oct. 7, 2012, the IDF targeted Tala’at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a “global jihad operative,” and Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawai, a member of the MSC. Maqawai, likely a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, died of his wounds. On Oct. 13, 2012, Israel killed Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah, in an airstrike. The two men were said to be leaders of the MSC. Numerous jihadist groups and media units as well as al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri issued statements following the death of the two jihadists.
More recently, in April this year, the IAF targeted and killed Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well-known jihadist in the Gaza Strip, who was said to be a member of the MSC. On May 7, Masshal was eulogized by a senior member of the MSC who claimed that he never visited Masshal “without finding his room full with materials for manufacturing and preparing rockets, and the materials of jihad.” On Aug. 7, 2013, the MSC released a video to jihadist forums praising Masshal for having “always rolled up his sleeves and used up his time in training the mujahideen to fight and shoot in the Cause of Allah.”
In June, jihadists in Syria called on Hamas members as well as members of other Palestinian factions in Gaza to join the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.
Since its formation, the group has released a couple of eulogies for slain al Qaeda leaders. For example, in September 2012 the group released a eulogy to jihadist forums for Abu Yahya al Libi, a longtime al Qaeda leader from Libya, who was killed in a US drone strike in Mir Ali in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan on June 4, 2012. More recently, in mid-July, the group released a statement of condolence to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after it confirmed the death of its deputy leader, Said al Shihri (a.k.a. Abu Sufyan al-Azdi).