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Israel, Egypt cooperate

by Linda Gradstein, The Media Line

August 14, 2013 | 3:24 pm

Palestinians rest inside a smuggling tunnel dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in the southern Gaza Strip on July 19, 2013. In the past few days Egypt has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling goods and weapons between Egypt and Gaza. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Palestinians rest inside a smuggling tunnel dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in the southern Gaza Strip on July 19, 2013. In the past few days Egypt has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling goods and weapons between Egypt and Gaza. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

The story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Did an Israeli drone cross into Egyptian airspace over the weekend and fire a rocket at gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula who were about to launch a strike on Israel? Probably. Will any Israeli or Egyptian official admit it, even off the record? Probably not.

The official story coming out of Egypt is that it was the Egyptian military that attacked Jihadists in Sinai, killing five. The Egyptian army, which is presently controlling Egypt after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was forced from office, is wary of being seen as too close to Israel and the United States.

Asked whether Israel was behind the attack, Egyptian military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali declined to comment directly.

“There is an obligation between the two countries to coordinate attacks and inform each other of activities they conduct in Sinai due to the peace accords,” Ali said, referring to the historic treaty of 1979. 

An Israeli military spokesman sounded similarly opaque.

“The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Egyptian military maintain ongoing security coordination in order to contend with mutual threats,” Capt. Eytan Buchmann said.

Egyptian military analysts said it was likely that Israel was behind the strike.

“There is a lot of confusion about who attacked the terrorists. The Israelis say they did it and the Egyptians say they did it,” retired Egyptian Gen. Fathi Ali said. “I believe the Israelis did it but with Egyptian coordination. You need people on the ground to call in the coordinates of locations where terrorists are.”

There is widespread security coordination between Israel and Egypt that is increasingly important to their mutual interests.

“This cooperation is vital to both sides,” Eitan Shamir, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University said. “Both Israel and Egypt are concerned about the situation in the Sinai [peninsula] and neither country wants instability. They both have an interest in having quiet along their border.”

In the past few days, Egypt has embarked on a campaign against terrorist groups in the Sinai. Egyptian soldiers have destroyed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling goods and weapons between Egypt and Gaza, and is launching attacks similar to the drone strike over the weekend that was originally attributed to Israel and is now being credited to an Egyptian military helicopter.

In the past year, Israeli officials have grown increasingly worried about the growth of jihadist elements in Sinai, once a popular tourist destination for Israelis. Last week, Israel even closed down its airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat for two hours, after a warning from Egypt that a rocket attack from Sinai was imminent. 

Under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the security ties between the two countries were public and close. The Egyptian intelligence chief visited Israel often and helped mediate cease-fires between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, which took over Gaza in 2007.

After the fall of Mubarak and the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, Israeli officials were concerned that the Egyptian military might back away from its relationship with Israeli security forces. Morsi had close ties with Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, after Morsi’s forced removal, the Egyptian army is playing an even more important role in the Arab world’s largest country with 85 million people. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab nations that maintain peace treaties with Israel.

“There is a lot of security cooperation, and it’s very important,” an Israeli diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “Egypt is the biggest and most important Arab country. When Egypt sneezes, the Arab world gets a cold. What happens there impacts everywhere.”

Israeli officials are also concerned that if radical groups in Sinai come under enough pressure from Egypt, they could try to attack Israel to divert attention and garner support from other terrorist groups. As the Egyptian crackdown in the Sinai continues, Israeli officials say they expect more attempted attacks, and say that Israeli-Egyptian security coordination is even more important than it has been in the past.

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