Egyptian Policeman Kills 3 IDF Soldiers in Border Battles, Investigation Ongoing

Three IDF soldiers were killed in Egypt border attack. Israeli Soldiers. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

An Egyptian policeman killed three Israeli soldiers on Saturday before IDF troops killed the assailant in a firefight in the Israel-Egypt border region, concluding the tragic and extremely unusual incident that still has unanswered questions. An investigation is ongoing, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding an “exhaustive and thorough” joint review with Egypt. The two nations have had a complicated but overwhelmingly quiet peace since signing a treaty in 1979.

“The incident on the Egyptian border is severe and extraordinary and will be fully investigated,” said Netanyahu on Sunday in comments published by his office. “…This is part of the important security cooperation between us [and Egypt], which has benefitted both countries over the years. We will draw all the necessary conclusions regarding our actions along the fence on the southern border, the Israeli-Egyptian border.”

According to a recap of the incident on the IDF website, translated from Hebrew by Google, two soldiers—Sgt. Lia Ben-Nun and Staff-Sgt. Yitzhak Ilouz—were killed by the Egyptian near the border in the early morning on Saturday. Additional forces searched the area, identified the shooter and a firefight ensued. Staff-Sgt. Ohad Dahan was killed in the exchange and another IDF soldier wounded, while the Egyptian was also killed. The IDF website referred to the assailant as a terrorist and said additional searches were underway at the time in the event of additional terrorists.

Egypt has claimed the Egyptian policeman was chasing international drug smugglers across the border. The Egyptian Military Spokesperson Twitter feed said that during the chase the Egyptian crossed the border and exchanged fire with Israeli forces, according to a Google translation of the Arabic tweet. The IDF website recap did acknowledge that drug smuggling along the border was intercepted the night before the shooting, with 3 million shekels ($800,000 US) worth of drugs seized.

However, this drug operation was three kilometers (1.86 miles) away from where the shooting occurred, and The Times of Israel reported that it was concluded three or four hours before the attack. The Times report said the first two IDF soldiers killed never fired their weapons. This is being investigated, along with why there was no alert when the Egyptian entered Israel, thought to be via an emergency gate in the border fence.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Zaki on Saturday and “expressed his appreciation to Minister Zaki for his commitment and cooperation in the investigation of the incident,” according to an Israeli press release recap of the call.

In addition, Gallant “emphasized the important ties between the two countries”, before the two military leaders expressed their “commitment to maintaining ongoing communication and ensuring the cooperation between the respective establishments to prevent such events in the future.” An additional tweet posted by the Egyptian Military Spokesperson and translated by Google said Zaki expressed condolences to the victims of what the tweet called an “accident” as well as echoing the effort to prevent such incidents in the future.

Despite the unanswered questions, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Herzi Halevi was quoted in the IDF website press release as saying the IDF troops “fulfilled their role and prevented further damage” that could have occurred. Netanyahu noted in his Sunday comments that Israel will “reinvigorate the procedures, the modus operandi and also the means, in order to minimize smuggling and in order to ensure that tragic attacks such as these do not recur.”

He said that while the fence has been successful in reducing the entrance of illegal immigrants to Israel, smuggling still occurs and “terrorists make periodic attempts to cross the fence and attack our forces.” While terror attacks around the Egyptian border are not common, they have occurred, including a massive attack in 2011—although Egypt was not believed to have been behind that assault.

Meanwhile, Israel mourns the latest victims of Saturday’s attack. Said Netanyahu, “Our hearts and the hearts of the entire nation are with the dear families, whose worlds have been devastated. We are all with them, in their profound grief.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, June 4, 2023)

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