Shortly after the Aug. 5 killing of 16 paramilitary policemen near Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, Egyptian, Israeli, and U.S. officials determined that the perpetrators were part of an "extremist group" — one they have yet to identify. According to official accounts, assailants firing AK-47s attacked the conscripts and officers as they prepared for iftar, the traditional breaking of the Ramadan fast. Eight of the terrorists were killed in the ensuing firefight, but not before the perpetrators hijacked an armored personnel carrier and tried unsuccessfully to cross the Egypt-Israel frontier.
To a variety of observers, however, the official story seems a little too neat. The Egyptian government rarely comes to a quick conclusion about anything except when its leaders have something to hide, typically resulting in a half-baked story that few are inclined to believe. The tale about a shadowy group of militants fits the bill, leaving journalists, commentators, and other skeptical Egyptians with two theories: Either the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and Egypt's intelligence services planned the operation to embarrass Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsy, or Israel's Mossad did it — a silly allegation that Morsy's own Muslim Brotherhood advanced. Lost in all this speculation, however, were the attack's unexpected but important political effects.