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Egypt Continues Sinai Security Effort Amid Reports of Israeli Help


Egyptian Army armored vehicles are seen on a highway traveling toward north Sinai during a launch of a major assault against militants, in Ismailia, Egypt, in this undated handout picture made available by Egypt's Ministry of Defense Feb. 9, 2018.

Egypt's armed forces Saturday continued what it describes as "intensive airstrikes against terrorist targets and gatherings" in Central and North Sinai.

An Egyptian Army spokesperson, in a statement Saturday, confirmed the military operation will continue but gave no details or numbers on casualties or arrests.

The military campaign is part of what the Egyptian government calls "Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018.” The mission, announced Friday, is intended to target “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations” across Egypt.

“The armed forces and the police assert their determination to uproot terrorism and to achieve peace and stability,” said Colonel Tamer al-Rifai in the statement.

Egypt is quietly carrying out the operation with cooperation from Israel. The countries fought three wars but now face a common foe, say analysts, in an attempt to stop a jihadist insurgency in the Sinai. Last year, militants attacked a Sufi mosque in the region, killing 311 worshipers. The Sinai borders Israel and the Gaza Strip and has long been a bastion for Islamic insurgent groups tied to al-Qaida.

Israeli airstrikes in the Sinai are targeted individuals or small groups of militants as opposed to infrastructure, according to media reports.

Unlikely partners

The growing military cooperation between Israel and Egypt has long been rumored and in June, Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) noted that if the frequent claims of anti-terror coordination were accurate it would show “the level of trust between the nations has reached the point where Israel is providing various military, technological and operational intelligence to Egypt and is operating attack UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] in Sinai with Cairo’s approval.”

FILE - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (R) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 19, 2017.
FILE - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (R) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 19, 2017.

Relations between Egypt and Israel have improved dramatically since the army ousted Islamist Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July, 2013.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi reinstated an ambassador in Tel Aviv in 2016, reversing Morsi's withdrawal of the envoy to protest a 2012 Israeli assault on Gaza. The same year Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israel, making a trip to the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was the first time an Egyptian foreign minister had visited Israel in two decades.

And last September Sissi met Netanyahu for the first time in public, the encounter coming ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. But the pair had talked, according to the Egyptian leader, frequently before then. In a 2015 interview with The Washington Post, Sissi said he talked “a lot” with the Israeli prime minister, part of an effort to “reassure him that achieving peace [with the Palestinians] will be a historic deal for him and for Israel, and that we are ready to help reach this peace.”

He said also that the high level of trust between them had been demonstrated by Israel’s willingness to authorize Egypt to deploy more troops and attack helicopters in the Sinai that are permitted by the 1979 Camp David peace accord between the two countries. “The hostile mood and skepticism have diminished with peace with Israel,” Sissi said.

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