JERUSALEM -- As Egypt deployed attack helicopters to the Sinai Peninsula Monday to find militants who killed 16 soldiers, Israeli officials credited advance intelligence and a quick response for averting what they said was meant to be a large-scale suicide attack on their side of the border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the restive area and praised security forces for destroying a stolen Egyptian armored vehicle shortly after it crashed through a border fence into Israel.
As many as 35 militants attacked an Egyptian security post Sunday night as soldiers were breaking fast from Ramadan, Egyptian authorities said. The attackers stole two armored vehicles and began racing toward the border crossing near Karem Shalom, Israel.
One vehicle, carrying an undetermined number of militants in suicide vests, exploded into an Israeli border post that had been evacuated as a precaution. The second vehicle then entered Israel and was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, killing eight militants, Israel said.
There were no Israeli casualties during the 15-minute attack. Israel had been bracing for violence in Sinai for days and warplanes were on standby, Israeli media reported.
"It's not as though we were expecting exactly this, but we did have quite a few security alerts coming from the region," said Defense Forces spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitz. She said it remained unclear which group was behind the attack but the militants carried half a ton of explosives. "Their intention was to kill as many people in Israel as possible," she said.
Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi expressed condolences to the families of the 16 soldiers. "Perpetrators who committed this crime will pay a heavy price," he said. "Sinai is safe and under control."