TEL AVIV – Israeli drones, jets, and helicopters have carried out a covert campaign of more than 100 airstrikes against Islamic State-affiliated terrorists in the Sinai over the past two years when Egypt proved unable to deal with the jihadist threat inside its borders, the New York Times reported Saturday.
Israel, alarmed at the threat across the border, took action with the blessing of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the Times said.
“Once enemies in three wars, then antagonists in an uneasy peace, Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war against a common foe,” said the paper.
The drones are unmarked while the helicopters and fighter jets cover their markings. In addition, the area in Sinai where the strikes were carried out was a closed military zone, the report said. The bid to keep the strikes under wraps is due to the Egyptian public’s hostility toward Israel despite a decades-long peace.
Only a select group of military and intelligence officials were aware of the strikes, the report said.
According to an unnamed American official, Israel’s help has finally allowed the Egyptian army to regain control of the peninsula.
“Their collaboration in the North Sinai is the most dramatic evidence yet of a quiet reconfiguration of the politics of the region. Shared enemies like ISIS, Iran and political Islam have quietly brought the leaders of several Arab states into growing alignment with Israel — even as their officials and news media continue to vilify the Jewish state in public,” the paper said.
The Israeli strikes began following the downing of a Russian plane over Sinai in October 2014 that killed 224 people and the capture by jihadists of a northern Sinai town.
The strikes deterred the terrorists, who then moved their focus onto softer targets like mosques and churches, the report said.
Israel is said to have complained to the U.S. that Egypt is not upholding its end of the bargain by sending in ground forces into the region.
According to the report, Israel’s invaluable assistance in the Sinai is also why during the Obama administration Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “scoffed at the idea” proposed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry in which Egypt and Jordan would help guarantee Israeli security in return for Israel’s relinquishing territory for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“Israel’s military was already propping up Egypt’s military, he said, according to the Americans. If Egypt was unable to control the ground within its own borders, Mr. Netanyahu argued, it was hardly in a position to guarantee security for Israel,” the paper said.