Military cooperation between Egypt and Israel has reached unprecedented levels in the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in an interview with CBS News.
When asked by CBS if security this cooperation with Israel was the closest ever between two countries that once were once enemies, he said “That is correct…we have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis.”
Israel has a 240-kilometer border with the restive Sinai peninsula and Cairo and Jerusalem have been reported to have been closely cooperating in the fight against an estimated 1,000 ISIS militants since Sisi rose to power.
The North Sinai, a mountainous desert between the Suez Canal and Israel has been a refuge for Islamist militants, with the peninsula’s main jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, carrying out several attacks-some deadly- against Israeli troops patrolling along the border.
Following Sisi’s rise the power the group, which pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in 2014, began a wave of deadly attacks against Egyptian security forces in the Sinai.
Sisi began to wage an extensive military operations against the jihadists, and while the terror group has lost much of its strength, the group remains active and continues to carry out deadly attacks.
In February 2017 following a massacre of 305 worshippers at Al-Rawda mosque in the North Sinai city of Bir El-Abd a senior Israeli defense official stated that the “relationship between Israel and Egypt is ongoing. Israel has always been ready to lend a hand and provide assistance to any country in the war against terror, in this case and in the future as well.”
According to foreign reports, the militaries of the two countries also meet regularly to exchange intelligence in the fight against ISIS and Cairo has given the green light to Jerusalem to strike the militants by air.
In February, The New York Times reported that for over two years Israel had been carrying out a full-blown covert aerial campaign against ISIS militants in the Sinai, conducting over 100 airstrikes by unmarked drones, helicopters and jets with Sisi’s approval.
The report also stated that it was “unclear if any Israeli troops or special forces have set inside Egyptian borders” as it would increase the risk of exposure for the two sides who have remained, until now, mum on the cooperation.
In Israel,the military censor has restricted reports of the cooperation and following the interview with CBS’s Scott Pelley the channel was apparently contacted by the Egyptian Ambassador and was told the interview-which also touched on the jailing of Sisi’s opponents and the massacre of 800 civilians when he was Defense Minister- could not be aired.