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.
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 the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.
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 was supposed to follow up on the airstrikes by pushing ground forces into the region.