Egyptian officials: We partnered with Israel on a drone strike against Islamists in the Sinai

Needless to say, the AP’s two senior sources in the Egyptian military are remaining anonymous, but it wouldn’t have taken long to make the connection anyway.  After Israel briefly shut down its airport in the resort town of Eilat yesterday, two explosions rocked the northern Sinai region of el-Agra, killing suspected Islamist terrorists and destroying a rocket launcher.  The tip on the terror threat apparently came from the government in Cairo, which helped coordinate the strike with Israel:

An Israeli drone strike inside Egypt killed five suspected Islamic militants and destroyed a rocket launcher Friday, two senior Egyptian security officials said, marking an incredibly rare Israeli operation carried out in its Arab neighbor’s territory.

The strike, coming after a warning from Egypt caused Israel to briefly close an airport Thursday, potentially signals a significant new level of cooperation between the two former foes over security matters in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula after a military coup ousted Egypt’s president. Egypt long has maintained that it wouldn’t allow other countries to use its territories as hotbed to launch attacks against other countries.

Residents heard a large explosion Friday in el-Agra, an area in the northern region of the Sinai close to Egypt’s border with Israel. The officials said the Israeli attack was in cooperation with Egyptian authorities. …

A statement later posted on the official Facebook page of Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, an Egyptian military spokesman, said there had been two explosions in el-Agra, south of Rafah, and that security forces were investigating. Egypt’s official MENA news agency said an explosion destroyed a rocket launcher set near the border to launch attacks against Israel. The agency said at least five jihadis were killed.

Israel declined to confirm the report to the AP, probably sensitive to the domestic political implications for military leader General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and his nascent interim government.  It wouldn’t have been a secret for long, anyway, especially if the government in Cairo offered no protest over the strike.  It’s no secret that Cairo has tried to get the Sinai under control and suppress the Islamist terrorists there; even Mohamed Morsi expressed a desire for security and cooperated with Israel on border issues, reluctantly or otherwise.

There is a big difference between that and allowing the IDF to hit Egyptian targets, however. With al-Sissi almost at war with the Islamists in Cairo and other areas of the nation, this provides just another provocation that will likely solidify Islamist opposition to the military coup, and fuel some of the conspiracy theories that posit Morsi’s fall as a Jewish plot (or a Coptic plot, or both).  The threat must have been pretty serious if al-Sissi risked the kind of backlash this might produce — and at least according the AP and its sources, the group planned on attacking the Suez Canal after its rocket attacks against Israel.  Given the precarious nature of the Egyptian economy and its central role in the unrest that unseated the Muslim Brotherhood, that would probably be enough to make al-Sissi reach out to the IDF.

Still, that’s a pretty mind-blowing thing to admit, even anonymously.  We’ll see whether it has any effect on the unrest still gathering in the streets of Cairo.

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