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Israelis have secret pact with Egypt to take on ISIS

7 February 2018 8:14 PM
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Washington: Unmarked Israeli warplanes and helicopters have carried out dozens of covert attacks against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups inside the Egyptian Sinai in recent years, said two former senior US officials.

The airstrikes by Israeli planes are conducted with the support of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has led an often brutal campaign inside Egypt to wipe out the jihadist groups but has struggled to defeat them.

In November, the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State launched a brazen attack in which nearly 40 gunmen stormed the al-Rawdah mosque in Egypt's sparsely populated Sinai, killing more than 300 worshipers.

The terrorist group first came to widespread public attention for its suspected role in the downing of a Russian airliner in 2015, in which 224 people were killed. Egypt's military has struggled for years to destroy the group, which briefly seized control of the northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid and has launched dozens of attacks on soldiers, police and Coptic Christian churches.

The covert alliance between Egypt and Israel on counterterrorism shows how the rise of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups have helped forge quiet partnerships between Israel and its longtime Arab adversaries.

Israeli security officials say their regional security concerns increasingly align with those of the Persian Gulf states. In 2016, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israeli officials were secretly meeting with counterparts from the gulf in "closed rooms" united against a common "bad guy" - Iran.

A former US official described the covert counterterrorism alliance between Israel and Egypt as a "big deal" but said that in recent years, counterterrorism relationships have become "a little bit insulated from ups and downs" of the region's tumultuous politics.

"The public perception of those two countries and how they relate is not in sync with how they work together privately on counterterrorism," said the former official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive alliance.

An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on the alliance or confirm the existence of Israeli military operations inside Egypt.

Although there was an awareness of the strikes within the US government, the former official said, the United States did not play a significant coordinating or supporting role. The official described the cooperation between Egypt and Israel as "organic."

The Israeli aircraft operating in Egypt are unmarked and fly circuitous routes so it does not appear as if they are flying from Israel, reflecting the sensitivity of the program, according to the Times' report.

On Twitter, Israeli journalists hinted that they had been unable to report the story because of censorship restrictions. Israeli journalists are required to submit articles related to matters of national security to a military censor before publication, with regulation also covering social media posts.

Egypt, Israel and Hamas broadly began to tighten security cooperation two years ago, forming an unlikely alliance as the Islamic State's offshoot in Sinai began to stage more sophisticated, sustained attacks.

Under pressure from Egypt, Hamas has tightened its border with Sinai amid concerns in Cairo that Gaza could be used by Islamic State members as a staging ground. The Islamic State has lost much of its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria over the past three years but remains a threat. Some U.S. counterterrorism experts warn that the group could step up terrorist attacks to prove its relevance, despite the collapse of its armies in Iraq and the loss of Raqqa, its capital in Syria.

U.S. officials have been carefully monitoring some of the group's more significant affiliates, such the branch in Sinai, to see how they may be affected by the broader collapse of the core group.

Source: theage.com.au

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