Israel carrying out secret airstrike campaign in Sinai to help Egypt

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Unmarked IAF drones, fighter jets, and gunships are conducting attacks against jihadist insurgents at the behest of Sissi, The New York Times reports

Israeli drones, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships have carried out more than 100 airstrikes against Islamist terrorists in the Sinai, in a bid to help Egypt deal with the jihadist insurgency in the peninsula, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Israel was forced to take action, with the blessing of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as Egypt struggled to deal with the violent uprising that has killed hundreds of Egyptian security forces and civilians, the report said.

While security coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo is known to be close, the ties are still unpopular in Egypt, despite nearly three decades of peace. In order to keep the cooperation quiet, the Israeli aircraft are often unmarked and sometimes use indirect routes in a bid to cover up the origin of the strikes, the report said.

The report said Sissi had kept the Israeli strikes secret, only letting a small group of military and intelligence officials in on the cooperation, and has kept northern Sinai a closed military area, barring reporters from the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in New York on September 19, 2017 (Avi Ohayun)

Spokesmen for the Israeli and Egyptian militaries declined to comment, and so did a spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at a conference in December. His government has conducted more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt since 2015. CreditMenahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Both neighbors have sought to conceal Israel’s role in the airstrikes for fear of a backlash inside Egypt, where government officials and the state-controlled media continue to discuss Israel as a nemesis and pledge fidelity to the Palestinian cause.

The Israeli drones are unmarked, and the Israeli jets and helicopters cover up their markings. Some fly circuitous routes to create the impression that they are based in the Egyptian mainland, according to American officials briefed on their operations.

In Israel, military censors restrict public reports of the airstrikes.

It is unclear if any Israeli troops or special forces have set foot inside Egyptian borders, which would increase the risk of exposure.

Mr. Sisi has taken even more care, American officials say, to hide the origin of the strikes from all but a limited circle of military and intelligence officers. The Egyptian government has declared the North Sinai a closed military zone, barring journalists from gathering information there.

Israeli and Egyptian officials refused to confirm or comment on the report, which the paper said was based on interviews with seven current or former British and American officials involved in Middle East policy, all speaking on condition of anonymity.

The report quoted American officials as saying that Israel’s air campaign has played a decisive role in enabling the Egyptian armed forces to gain an upper hand against the jihadists.

According to the US sources, Israel began its airstrikes following the capture of a north Sinai town by the Islamists and the downing of a Russian charter jet over Sinai in October 2014 that killed 224 people.

They said Israel has had a string of successes in killing the terrorist leaders.

In the wake of the Israeli strikes, the Islamists slowed their advance and switched their attention to softer targets like attacking mosques and churches, the report said.

However, Israel has complained to the US that Egypt is not upholding its end of the agreement, and that Cairo was supposed to follow up on the airstrikes by sending ground forces into the region.

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