Egypt’s Third Army has deployed the equivalent of a battalion of soldiers near the Israeli border to conduct counter-terrorism operations and prevent jihadists from targeting Israeli civilians – and especially civilian planes – with anti-aircraft weapons, according to a Wednesday report published in the Times of Israel by veteran Israeli Middle East analyst Avi Issacharoff:
Egyptian sources estimate the force is about the size of a battalion, or several hundred men. The move was coordinated with Israel.
Egypt is concerned that jihadist operatives in the Sinai Peninsula who are affiliated with al-Qaeda may try to down an Israeli civilian aircraft flying near the border during its approach for landing in the resort town of Eilat.
The move is bound to be read against a stream of news and leaks pegging Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation at unprecedented levels:
The security collaboration between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Egyptian military is at its zenith. Senior Israeli security officials relate that during the period of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted president, as well as during the time of Hosni Mubarak, the deposed president, Egyptians never took the trouble to look into Israel’s claims.
Asaf Ronel, the world news editor from Israel’s left-leaning Ha’aretz, described the development as a “new level of cooperation between [Egyptian President el-Fattah El-Sisi] and Israel.”
Concrete details have been emerging for almost a year of security cooperation in the Sinai Peninsula, and had been preceded even earlier by what appeared to be unprecedented military-to-military coordination. The Egyptians have also over the last year undertaken a systematic campaign to degrade the access that the Palestinian terror group Hamas has to the outside world, and to destroy the smuggling tunnels that the group used to import rockets and missiles that were subsequently turned against Israeli civilians.
For their part the Israelis, along with Saudi Arabia and much of the rest of the Gulf, have expressed frustration over ongoing decisions by the Obama administration to deny counter-terror assets to the Egyptian military for deployment in the Sinai.
[Photo: Chris Yunker / Flickr]