Israel has carried out drone strikes against terrorists operating in the Sinai Peninsula in recent years, according to a Bloomberg news report Monday that quoted an unnamed former senior official.
The airstrikes were conducted with Egypt’s knowledge and blessing, according to the ex-official, who spoke to the US-based news site on condition of anonymity.
While it has become a well-known secret that Jerusalem and Cairo cooperate closely on security measures in the Sinai and Gaza, many of the details of that relationship have been kept a closely guarded secret.
This report, published during Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s visit to Jerusalem, sheds additional light on covert security cooperation, which has come along with increasingly close ties on the political front.
Islamists in the restive Sinai who have since pledged allegiance to the Islamic State have waged an insurgency against Egyptian forces since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Fighting has intensified in recent years following a coup by current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to remove Muslim Brotherhood-linked leader Mohammed Morsi from power.
Israeli military officials believe that despite ideological differences, Hamas in Gaza is cooperating with extremists affiliated with Islamic State or other armed groups in Egypt’s neighboring Sinai region.
They praise Egypt’s crackdown on Hamas’s cross-border smuggling tunnels, which had been a main conduit for weapons into Gaza, and say the Egyptian military is doing an admirable job in a fierce battle against IS militants in Sinai.
Israel has allowed Egypt to move heavy weapons like tanks, artillery and attack helicopters into the Sinai to fight extremists, overlooking provisions in the landmark 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
The two sides also are considered to have close intelligence ties.
The two countries have entered something of a golden age in their relationship since Sissi assumed the country’s leadership in 2013.
“This is one of the best times we’ve ever had” in terms of cooperation between governments, Israeli ambassador to Cairo Haim Koren said recently. “There’s good cooperation between the armies, we have understandings about the Sinai Peninsula, and basically, we see (eye-to-eye) on development of the region.”
After decades of wars followed by years of an uneasy peace, Israel has emerged as an increasingly public ally to Sissi, along with powerhouse Saudi Arabia and smaller, wealthy Gulf Arab countries.
Israel often praises Sissi for his tough stance on terrorism, and considers him a key ally in what it sees as a shared battled against Islamic extremists.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sissi often speak on the phone. In May, Netanyahu welcomed what he described as Sissi’s “willingness” to help advance the peace process with the Palestinians, after Sissi said that Egypt’s relations with Israel could be warmer if it made peace with the Palestinians.
“We have common enemies in the sense of terrorism, or if you like, radical Islamic terrorism, emerged from the same root no matter if it happens to be Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra or al-Qaeda,” Koren said. Sissi “understood quickly that we are all in the same boat,” he added.