Report: Western Security Officials Confirm Israel, Egypt Armies Battling Terrorists Together in Sinai
by Joshua Levitt
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Western security officials, confirmed media speculation that this weekend’s onslaught against terrorists in the Sinai came through coordination between Egyptian and Israeli security forces, although neither side would confirm that they work with the other.
“Israel’s intervention in the Sinai Peninsula—which Egyptian officials denied, and which Israeli officials neither confirmed nor denied—would be the clearest manifestation of the high-level interaction between Israeli and Egyptian military and intelligence chiefs, according to the Western officials. Such cooperation between the U.S. allies has increased since last month’s ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, these officials say,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
On Friday, the Associated Press cited two senior Egyptian security officials as saying an Israeli drone strike inside of Egypt in the troubled Sinai Peninsula had killed five suspected terrorists preparing to launch rockets into Israel. AFP cited the Egyptian military as saying that it coordinated the strike with the Israel Defense Forces.
“The attack was preceded by communications between senior Israeli security officials and their Egyptian counterparts” who “discussed the threat posed by the rocket crew and response options,” the WSJ reported.
“The understanding on both sides is that Israel will take direct action only as a last resort if the Egyptians aren’t in a position to stop an imminent threat from the Sinai,” said Western officials cited by the newspaper, “Such an Israeli intervention would be ‘very rare’ because of Egyptian sensitivities.”
“The arrangement shows the extent to which the Israeli and Egyptian militaries have closed ranks against militants massing on the peninsula,” the WSJ said.
On Sunday, in Sheikh Zuweid, North Sinai, Reuters’ Aswat Masriya website reported that the Egyptian army killed 15-17 militants in an “anti-terrorist” military operation. For two hours late on Saturday evening army Apache helicopters targeted “terrorist” sites in the town of Al-Thoma, south of Sheikh Zuweid and the army used loudspeakers to warn citizens against leaving their homes to shield themselves from rocket fire from military helicopters.
The WSJ cited a “senior Israeli official,” who declined to comment on any understanding between the two countries, but said the security situation in Sinai represents a threat to both countries. “We are respectful of Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai and we are very supportive of Egyptian efforts to deal with these challenges and we have good military to military cooperation,” the official told the WSJ.
“A senior American official” described military cooperation between Israel and Egypt as “better than ever,” the WSJ said.
Since the overthrow of Morsi’s Mulsim Brotherhood regime in Egypt last month, the Egyptian and Israel forces have worked, according to the the New York Times, to close 80% of the tunnels in Sinai that had been used for smuggling goods and weapons to Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist ally, in Gaza.
At a press conference in July, Major General Osama Askar, commander of Egypt’s Third Army, accused Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, of attempting to smuggle 19 Grad rockets from Gaza. Egyptian soldiers intercepted the rocket shipment along the Suez-Cairo highway, which Askar charged was on its way to Cairo to help the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ala Al-Rafati, Hamas’s economy minister, told Reuters last month that tunnel closures since June had cost Gaza around $230 million – approximately a tenth of the GDP of the territory.
In exchange for allowing the IDF to help Egypt control the Sinai, the WSJ cited “Western officials” as saying Israel has lobbied in Washington on behalf of protecting “U.S. military aid to Egypt despite the army’s ouster of the president, arguing that the money helps underpin the 1979 peace accord between the two countries. If U.S. aid is cut off, the Egyptian military could start scaling back their cooperation, Israeli officials have warned their American counterparts.”
The newspaper said Egypt’s new national security adviser, Raafat Shehata, and Gen. Nader al-Aasar, who was recently promoted to head Egyptian intelligence’s international relations branch, both have ties to Israeli intelligence, and “helped facilitate the agreement between Egypt and Israel to make an exception to the three-decade-old Camp David peace treaty and allow Egypt to send a surge of military forces into the Sinai to combat the growing militant threat there, the Western officials said.”
“Israel’s military uses real-time images along the border with the Sinai from blimps, drone aircraft and satellites to spot potential threats, as was the case on Friday,” according to Western officials cited by the Journal.
The newspaper quoted Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at Center for Strategic & International Studies, as saying that the cooperation reflected a convergence of interests. “There is a real risk that the Sinai will become an area where the Egyptian military and police are going to lose their freedom of action and ability to move,” he said. “And it’s clear that Israel has every possible interest in stopping that from happening.”