An Egyptian military vehicle is seen on the highway in northern Sinai, Egypt, May 25, 2015..
(photo credit: ASMAA WAGUIH / REUTERS)
It is no secret that new and surprising alliances have been formed between Israel and a number of Arab states in the region.
Iran has been killing Arab Sunnis and taking control of their land in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Islamic State and other proponents of political Islam have posed a threat to regimes in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, to name a few.
Israel, with its military capabilities, extensive intelligence and advanced technologies, is viewed by many Arab regimes in the region as an important and perhaps even an essential ally in the fight against Islamists, whether they be Sunnis or Shi’ites.The New York Times
revealed yet another example of how Israel has proven to be critical to continued regional stability. According a report published over the weekend, for more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have been carrying out clandestine attacks – over 100 of them – against Islamists operating in Sinai, in full coordination with Egypt’s military regime headed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The cooperation serves both Egyptian and Israeli interests, according to the Times
report. For Egypt, the Israeli military involvement is critical for the successful fight against Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and other Islamist terrorist groups operating in the Sinai.
Before Israel’s reported involvement, it seemed that Egypt was losing the battle. On July 1, 2015, Islamists briefly captured control of the northern Sinai town Sheikh Zuweid. In October of the same year, the terrorists shot down a Russian charter jet, killing all 224 people aboard. The air strikes – which according to the report, Israel launched at the end of 2015 – tipped the tide in favor of the Egyptians, say American sources quoted by the Times.
Israel, meanwhile, has a vested interest in ensuring that Islamists are prevented from taking control of Sinai, which is located on Israel’s southern border.
Gradually, it seems the semi-clandestine cooperation between Egypt and Israel is becoming widely known in diplomatic and military circles. Zack Gold, an analyst and specialist on the Sinai Peninsula who was interviewed by the Times
, likened the under-the-radar cooperation between Egyptian and Israel to Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. Though, according to foreign news sources, Israel has atomic bombs, the Jewish state has never officially affirmed this, which allows Israel to deny the claim while at the same time enjoying the deterrence afforded countries with nuclear weapons.
Similarly, both Israel and Egypt are wary of publicizing their cooperation in Sinai for fear that doing so will spark opposition within Egyptian society, where Israel is regularly pillorized. Leaders from neither country wish to see a backlash. As a result, no official sources on either side are willing to confirm the military cooperation in Sinai.
At the same time, the two countries see the cooperation as essential to the continued stability of the Sinai Peninsula.
The idea that the cooperation is not a complete secret also serves as something of a deterrent for Islamist groups with aspirations to expand their operations in the Sinai.
We believe, however, that the strengthening ties between Israel and countries like Egypt should cease to remain a secret. It has been over four decades since Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Yet relations remain uneasy, due entirely to stereotypes and antisemitic sentiments perpetuated in Egyptian society. The time has come for the Egyptian president and other Egyptian leaders who benefit from Israeli support to begin changing Egyptian public opinion about Israel. It is, after all, the role of true leaders to initiate change and lead their people, not just to be the slaves of public opinion.
Iran and Islamic State, not Israel, are the ones endangering Arab lives, undermining Arab governments and conquering Arab land. Not only is Israel not a threat to Arabs, it is a country that has proven to be instrumental in confronting and stopping Iran and IS.
Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s muted response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a positive step. Now it is time for Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s 2016 visit to Jerusalem to be followed by one by Sisi. Covert military cooperation should be translated into full-fledged and open diplomatic relations and end the uneasy peace between Jerusalem and Cairo.