CAIRO (AP) — A video purportedly by Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate has delivered a rare direct threat to Israel, saying the Jewish state will soon “pay a high price.”
Egypt’s branch of the Islamic State group is spearheading an insurgency in northern Sinai that had simmered for years but grew stronger and deadlier after the military’s 2013 ouster of Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist president whose one year in office proved divisive.
The narrator of the 35-minute video released this week threatens Israel’s Jewish population, saying “your account with us has become weighty and you will soon pay a high price.” The authenticity of the footage could not immediately be verified, though its contents and production style mirrored previous IS propaganda material.
The Islamic State, which controls large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, seldom mentions Israel in its propaganda material. When it has done so it has often been in the wake of battlefield setbacks, apparently to boost the morale of its fighters and supporters.
The Islamic State has over the past year lost a string of cities it had captured in Iraq and is now bracing for an assault by U.S.-backed government troops and allied militiamen on Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which has been under IS control since 2014. In neighboring Syria, the extremist group is coming under growing pressure, and is fighting on multiple fronts against the Russian-backed Syrian army and its allies, as well as U.S.-backed Kurdish troops.
The video also included footage depicting the killing with a single bullet to the head of two Egyptian policemen in Sinai.
Military officials with firsthand knowledge of the fighting in Sinai said the latest IS video was a little more than a compilation of old footage depicting attacks on the Egyptian army and police in Sinai. However, the video, which shows roadside bomb attacks, gun battles, and sniper fire, offers a glimpse of the scale of fighting there.
Egyptian authorities have all but banned media access to northern Sinai, with the local press relying almost entirely on statements put out by the army and police, briefly reporting on their casualties. Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism law passed last year places severe restrictions on media coverage of anti-government activity, with heavy fines and up to five years imprisonment prescribed for publishing news that contradicts official statements or the perceived promotion of terrorists’ causes.
The latest IS video, entitled “Flames of the Desert,” shows the faces of IS fighters killed by Egyptian troops. The military officials say the militant group edited out the fierce counter-attacks launched by the military following militant attacks.
One example, they said, was the part of the footage showing militants firing at an Apache gunship while triumphantly screaming “Allahu Akbar”, or god is great. The aircraft was not hit, and later gunned down and killed most of the militants, added the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The video showed militants riding a tank they purportedly captured from army troops, some of them wearing ski masks, camouflage fatigues, and armed with machine guns mounted on pickup trucks, mortars, and what appeared to be Russian-made, anti-tank Kornet missiles.
The Pentagon has shifted more than 100 U.S. soldiers from a desert camp near the Egypt-Israeli border in the Sinai Peninsula after a barrage of attacks by militants linked to Islamic State.
The U.S. troops, part of a little-known peacekeeping force that helps maintain the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel, were transferred about 300 miles south to a more secure area.
The move comes as the Obama administration is considering whether to scale back the 700 U.S. troops in the Sinai and instead use remote sensors, cameras, and other technology to monitor the border.
Sinai Province, a militant group that last year declared allegiance to Islamic State, has carried out multiple attacks on military outposts in the northern Sinai. Its fighters have killed dozens of Egyptian soldiers, including eight this month when militants fired a rocket at their armored vehicle.
The extremist group claimed responsibility after a bomb exploded aboard a Russian-chartered passenger jet over the Sinai on Oct. 31 and killed all 224 passengers and crew. In July, the group hit an Egyptian frigate in the Mediterranean Sea with a shoulder-fired missile.
The Multinational Force of Observers, or MFO, has 1,680 troops from a dozen countries. The Americans, who live behind blast walls and travel in armored vehicles, have increasingly found themselves at risk in the insurgency.
Four were injured when their convoy hit two roadside bombs in September. Several weeks earlier, an American soldier was shot in the arm when gunmen targeted the camp, near the northern Sinai village of Al-Joura.
The Pentagon responded last summer by sending 75 more troops plus counter-mortar radars and new communication equipment.
As peacekeepers, the U.S. troops aren’t authorized to fire at the militants — only the Egyptians are allowed do that.
The recent attacks were among the topics that Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed Saturday in a closed-door meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi on Saturday in Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb.
Any major change in the peacekeeping force must be approved by all signatories to the accord, which followed the wars between Egypt and Israel and in 1967 and 1973.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter formally notified Israel and Egypt this month that the U.S. is reviewing its role in the force. U.S. defense officials say the review involves reducing the number of U.S. troops, not a full withdrawal.
Many of the troops, including staff headquarters, already have moved from El Gorah in the northern Sinai to a smaller installation near Sharm el Sheik on the southern tip of the peninsula.
“The Pentagon has valid concerns about troop safety,” said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But the U.S. tinkering with its force numbers, even if slightly, can give the appearance that it is second-guessing the mission, which is worrisome for the Egyptian government and provides a propaganda tool” for Islamic State.
The U.S. government provides $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. It has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since the 1979 peace accord with Israel.
The Obama administration briefly suspended military aid in 2013 to push Sisi, who had seized power in a military coup, to improve his government’s human rights record.
Despite continued U.S. criticism over Sisi’s jailing of political opponents and activists, Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited here Wednesday to show support for Egypt’s government.
“We talked about ways in which we can hopefully resolve some of the differences and questions that have arisen about the internal politics and choices for the people of Egypt,” Kerry said after talking with Sisi.
Kerry did not detail the “differences,” but added that Egypt is “critical to the peace and security” of the region.
The alliance of shared interests between Israel and Egypt has grown stronger in recent months. Not only do both countries see eye to eye on developments in the Middle East, primarily the threats to regional stability and national security, they are also translating this understanding into actual, practical cooperation aimed at confronting those threats.
Naturally, many aspects of this cooperation are hidden from the public eye. Both countries are tackling the spread of Islamist extremism in the area, spearheaded by groups like the Islamic State’s Sinai branch, which is responsible for a series of terrorist attacks against Egyptian and Israeli targets alike. It is also important to note that both Israel and Egypt believe the fight against ISIS in Sinai entails, and even necessitates, confronting Hamas in Gaza. Hamas’s very existence in the Gaza Strip has been a constant headache for both countries. However, in the absence of the ability or the will to topple Hamas, continuously working to curb the threats it poses is imperative, which means targeting Hamas’s attack tunnels leading into Israel and the weapons-smuggling tunnels from Sinai. These weapons, as we know, will likely be used by Hamas to attack Israel and by ISIS forces in Sinai to attack Egyptian security forces.
The warming ties between Jerusalem and Cairo are manifesting themselves in an upgrade in diplomatic relations. Case in point: Egypt dispatched an ambassador to Israel in January, and its leadership has taken to making responsible and levelheaded statements regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
With that, the improved diplomatic and security relationship between the countries still has not trickled down to the street. In fact, a large portion of the Egyptian public still exhibits open hostility toward Israel in an almost Pavlovian manner. It is hard to gauge the extent to which this hostility, which Egypt’s intellectual elite also expresses on occasion, truly represents the mood of the average Egyptian in the street. As we know, most Egyptians are struggling with Egypt’s dire economic situation, which presently tops the national agenda.
It is noteworthy that even among customarily hostile circles in Egypt, calls for war against Israel or the severing of diplomatic ties are absent from the current discourse. Preserving the peace accord with Israel is viewed as a clear national interest, and a widespread consensus on this matter transverses all layers of Egyptian society. The argument is over expanding the relationship to the economic and cultural spheres, and in this regard many Egyptians prefer following the mood of the Arab world — which remains hostile toward Israel. After all, these days it is hard to find two Arabs who agree on anything, and the Israeli-Arab conflict serves as a common denominator among Arabs on the most basic level.
From here we arrive at the bizarre spectacle earlier this month, in which Egyptian parliamentarians voted to expel a fellow lawmaker for meeting with the Israeli ambassador. It doesn’t take too much intelligence to realize that these lawmakers don’t represent much of anyone in Egypt, and it is doubtful whether they even care about the conflict with Israel. What’s interesting in this story is that an Egyptian parliamentarian dared do what many of his colleagues perhaps wished they could, were they not afraid of the backlash from fellow lawmakers.
The bottom line, however, is that both countries’ leaderships have a common view of the challenges that lie ahead. In retrospect, perhaps the understandings shared by the respective political and security echelons are more significant than the ephemeral mood on the street or among segments of the cultural and intellectual elite in the Arab world. The peace accord is an asset that the next generation of leaders and military commanders, from both countries, are encouraged to cultivate. Incidentally, replace the name Egypt with Jordan, and this article would perfectly describe the relationship between Jerusalem and Amman.
The title of a recently released film caught my attention: The Gods of Egypt. This column is not about the film, but rather it addresses God’s judgment on the gods of Egypt by way of the ten plagues. The ten plagues were the systematic judgments of God against Pharaoh and the Egyptians for enslaving the Hebrews for 400 years and refusing to let them go.
“Let My people go,” said God through his servants, Moses and his brother Aaron. But Pharaoh refused. So under God’s instruction, Moses unleashed ten plagues against Egypt.
In each of these judgments, God spared His people, the Hebrews. He miraculously kept them from experiencing His wrath.
The final judgment, the slaying of the Egyptian’s firstborn, involved the very first Passover event. The Hebrew people were instructed by God to take a lamb without blemish, to sacrifice it, and to spread the blood on the top and the two sides of the doorpost, forming a type of cross.
Then the angel of death would pass over the Hebrew households [with the blood on the doorposts], but would slay the firstborn of the Egyptians. The New Testament says Christ our Passover lamb has been slain for us.
Dr. D. James Kennedy points out that each of the ten plagues was a judgment on one of the gods of Egypt. You can find his commentary on this it in the new D. James Kennedy Topical Study Bible in the Book of Exodus.
Kennedy notes, “In the Book of Exodus, we see the great confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. This is the Old Testament counterpart to the confrontation between Christ and Pilate, the representative of the pagan Roman Empire, with Pharaoh being the representative of the pagan empire of Egypt. Here is a classic confrontation between good and evil, Christ and Satan.”
Consider the plagues one by one and what Kennedy says about God’s judgment on Egypt’s false gods:
1. The Egyptians worshiped the River Nile, the source of their lives.
The first plague attacked that idol by turning the water into blood.
2. The goddess Hekt (Heket, Heqet) had the face of a frog.
“You worship frogs,” said God in effect, “now see what it’s like to have frogs everywhere.” In a short time, the Egyptians were sick of frogs.
3. Plague number three saw lice fill the land.
Kennedy notes, “Now one of the gods of the Egyptians was Seb, the earth god. … The Egyptians’ reverence for the ground having it covered with trillions of fleas or lice would no doubt cool their amorous desires for that earth god Seb.”
4. Swarms of flies made up the fourth plague.
Says Kennedy: “Scholars say they probably were not flies, so much as they were the beetles common to that area, called the scarabaeus from which we get the word scarab, which is a black beetle.”
5. The fifth plague was the judgment on the Egyptian cattle.
Apis, the chief god of Memphis, was a sacred bull worshiped by the Egyptians.
6. The sixth plague involved boils.
This was a judgment against the god Typhon. This god, notes Kennedy, was “a magical genie that was worshiped in ancient Egypt. Here was a god who was connected with the magicians, which were the priests of the Egyptian religion. We find here that the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boil was upon the magicians and upon all of Egypt. So their power was broken.”
7. Then came the plague of hail.
Shu was the “god of the atmosphere.” As Kennedy points out: “Now it is hard to go out to worship the god of the atmosphere when you are being pounded with large hail stones.”
8. Next, locusts swarmed the land.
The Egyptians worshiped the god Serapis, defender of the land against locusts.
9. Another major god of the Egyptians was Rah, the sun god.
But Plague number nine saw darkness come over the land, even during the day.
10. “And finally in the last plague upon Pharaoh himself, who was supposedly descended from the sun god Rah, his first born was killed,” writes Kennedy.
He sums it all up this way: “In the ten plagues, God shows the world for all time that He alone deserves our worship.”
Tragically, people today worship all sorts of false gods: money, celebrities, and football or other sports. Some even worship their own possessions. Each of these will one day be burned up in God’s final judgment of this Earth, and then all will see that only the Triune God is worthy of worship.
Whether audiences find the new movie, The Gods of Egypt, to be an entertaining fantasy adventure or just a high-tech stinker, it’s good to remember that the ten plagues were God’s judgments on human idolatry.
////////////////////// Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a key archivist of the D. James Kennedy Legacy Library
“We demand that the State of Israel pay compensation for the ten plagues that our forefathers in Egypt suffered thousands of years ago as a result of the curses of the Jewish forefathers.” So wrote prominent Egyptian columnist Ahmad Al-Gamal shortly before the Jewish Passover, causing a great stir.
“What is written in the Torah is that Pharaoh discriminated against the children of Israel. What have we to do with it? We therefore need not suffer!” exclaimed Al-Gamal, drawing a clear difference between the Egyptian kingdom of the Pharaohs and Islamic Egypt of today. Note that Islam accepts the biblical narrative as historical evidence.
The columnist suggested that the government in Cairo press charges against Israel: “The Jews caused the land to be stricken with locusts and all agriculture destroyed, turned the Nile red with blood so that one could drink its waters, sent darkness, frogs, and killed the firstborn.”
Al-Gamal continued: “During 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Children of Israel enjoyed our goods, which they stole before abandoning us.” He also recommended that Egypt bring charges against France, Great Britain, and Turkey for those nations’ historical conquests of Egypt.
The Egyptian column was picked up by the Israeli press, especially religious news outlets, which readily acknowledged all that Al-Gamal wrote as historical fact.
Some Israeli columnists retorted that Egypt need first compensate Israel for keeping the Jewish forefathers as slaves and for killing all male Jewish babies in the generation prior to the Exodus.
MAR GIRGIS MONASTERY, Egypt — There is no sign of the hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims who flock here every November. No tattoo artists inscribing crosses on the wrists of babies or images of saints on the arms of young men. No stalls selling crosses, icons or pillows embroidered with portraits of patriarchs.
The only noise disturbing the quiet of the Monastery of Mar Girgis these days is the call for prayers blaring from the nearby mosque.
The week-long festival of Mar Girgis, or St. George, has been held here annually for more than a century, attracting as many as 2 million pilgrims from across Egypt to one of the biggest and most exuberant events of the year for Orthodox Coptic Christians.
This year, however, the government canceled the festival, fearing it would be a target for Islamic militants who have stepped up attacks since the July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The cancellation — along with those of two similar festivals the past few months — has fed Christians’ fears that they are not benefiting as they had hoped from publicly supporting the military’s removal of Morsi. Their worst fear, some say, is the discrimination against them will endure.
Christian activists have been pushing for solid gains after the removal of Islamists from power. They want the revised constitution to clearly state that all Egyptians are equal and to remove draconian restrictions placed on the construction and restoration of churches. They also want an end to the illegal but routine practice of denying Christians top positions in the military, security services, academia and the judiciary. Many seek a set quota for Christians in parliament to ensure a proportionate representation for the community.
So far, however, they appear to have gotten no stronger language in the constitution protecting their rights, as the 50-member panel drawing up amendments to the mainly Islamist-drafted charter passed under Morsi begins to put together a final draft.
“The Copts have paid a high price since Jan. 25 and until now,” said Maher Shoukri, a Christian activist, referring to the start of the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
“The Copts must reap the fruits of the revolution and feel the change,” said Shoukri, from the Christian-led rights group, the Association of Maspero Youth.
Egypt’s Christian minority, about 10 percent of the population of some 90 million, long has complained of discrimination.
The Coptic Orthodox Church, to which most of them belong, has done away with its customary caution about involvement in politics when Pope Tawadros II publicly supported Morsi’s ouster. On July 3, the pope stood with Egypt’s top Muslim cleric behind military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi when he announced Morsi’s ouster.
Since then, Christians have been hit by a backlash from Islamists. Mobs torched, looted or destroyed at least 40 churches across Egypt. Tawadros has been vilified in graffiti painted over church walls and Christian homes and businesses.
Kidnapping Christians for ransom has seen a dramatic rise in areas south of Cairo, particularly Minya, home to the highest percentage of Christians in any of the nation’s 27 provinces. Activists report a rise in Christians leaving the country, and even some churches have advertisements offering help in getting visas abroad.
Now some Christians feel their church was used to give the coup the appearance of inclusiveness. They complain that the new order in Egypt has failed in its first test — protecting Christians — underscored by the cancellation of the Mar Girgis festival.
“Christians are deluding themselves into believing that their safety lies with the military,” said Nirvana Mamdouh, a Christian activist.
Another activist, Ebram Louis, noted how authorities quickly repaired Cairo’s Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, which was damaged when security forces violently broke up a pro-Morsi sit-in there in mid-August, killing hundreds of his supporters. In contrast, none of the churches damaged in attacks the same month have been repaired despite promises by the military, he said.
Safwat el-Bayadi, head of the Anglican church in Egypt and one of three Christians on the panel amending the constitution, said, “The only gains we are looking for is equality in the rights and duties for all.”
“We do not accept the division of rights according to religious affiliation even if that works for our benefit,” he told The Associated Press.
A senior church leader known to be close to Tawadros aired his fears over the future of Christians in post-Morsi Egypt in an interview with the AP. The cleric spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal and confidential discussions of the church’s leadership.
He complained that nothing has been done to repair damaged churches or to stem rising kidnappings.
“It is time that the issues of the Christians are not diluted or cast aside,” he said, adding that the constitution must enshrine a “civil and democratic state and a clear and straight line separating state from religion.”
Church leaders say they observed the cancellation of the festival at Mar Girgis to help the military-backed government to restore security. But it fuels Christians’ bitter perception that they are pushed to make concessions. For example, Tawadros canceled celebrations marking his enthronement a year ago. Churches across much of the country have canceled social activities for security reasons.
Father Arsenious, head of the Mar Girgis Monastery, said security officials told the church that even if they deployed a large number of police they could not guarantee the festival’s safety. “It’s better to cancel it this year, rather than allow a tragedy to take place,” he said.
The annual pilgrimage to the walled monastery in the deserts of southern Egypt overlooking the Nile, 400 miles (660 kilometers) south of Cairo, is a festival of faith, a time to pay homage to the 3rd-century saint who is one of their most revered figures. It is also an opportunity for Christians to celebrate their identity in an atmosphere free from discrimination.
“It is an occasion where Christians feel free and behave without inhibitions,” the 64-year-old Arsenious said. “It is like they are exercising all their rituals and chanting their slogans without a worry about the consequences.”
During last year’s festival, men and women flaunted the cross tattoos on the inside of their wrists, which they normally keep discreet. Men showed off more elaborate tattoos of favorite saints on their arms. Tens of thousands lived in a tent city outside the monastery’s walls as hymns blared out of speakers and special envoys from the pope headed ceremonies and Mass.
The monastery put up a notice saying it would be closed to visits during the time of the festival — which was to have begun on Monday, Nov 18 — and word spread through churches and social media. Still, a handful of pilgrims showed up at the monastery’s imposing iron gates demanding to come in to pray.
Despite the current atmosphere, Arsenious says he’s optimistic things will change. He said he dreams of a return to the days of the 1970s, before the rise of Muslim conservatism and Islamic militancy.
“It is unrealistic to expect that people, like in the West, would never ask about one’s religion,” he said. “But I want to at least comfortably spend a whole day with a Muslim friend without fear that he could turn against me at any moment.”
(Reuters) JERUSALEM – Israel struggled to hide its frustration on Thursday at a U.S. decision to withhold aid to Cairo, fearing the move could damage Washington’s standing in the region and undermine its own peace treaty with Egypt.
Senior Israeli officials have criticized U.S. handling of Egypt since the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and had urged it to support the new army-backed government following the ousting of Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in July.
Concerned by the outlook for human rights and democracy in Egypt, the United States announced on Wednesday it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters, and missiles as well as $260 million in cash aid.
The Israeli government declined direct comment on the move, but said it hoped there would be no knock-on effects.
“Certainly it can be confirmed that we had been troubled by how decisions of this kind were liable to be interpreted in Egypt, and of course the risk of consequences for relations with Israel,” Civil Defense Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio.
U.S. military aid to Egypt, put at some $1.3 billion a year, was born out of the historic 1979 peace treaty between the Arab world’s most populous state and Israel.
“We are concerned that if the aid goes, then the Egyptian people will put pressure on their government to throw away the treaty,” said one senior Israeli official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivities of the issue.
“It is not an immediate worry. The Egyptian government knows we are supportive, but it would have been best to avoid this.”
The U.S. State Department made clear it was not cutting off all aid and would continue military support for counterterrorism and security in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel.
Although there was no suggestion that the frozen aid would affect Egypt’s ability to govern, Israelis worried that the U.S. move would send the wrong signal to Middle East allies who expect strong leadership from Washington in troubled times.
“What is surprising in this entire process is that the Americans are essentially, unwittingly, working against their own interest,” said former Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who was close to Mubarak.
“It must be understood that this region is so weak and in order to keep it stable, a superpower of some kind is required to safeguard it,” he said, adding that he would not be surprised if U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia started looking toward Russia.
A senior serving Israeli official, who declined to be named, said it was possible that Egypt might also turn to Russia. “I would say this is a realistic concern. … For decades, Egypt has been a U.S.-aligned country, and the Russians would be happy to come in and replace the United States there again,” he said.
Israel views Washington as by far its most important ally, and is clearly concerned that recent U.S. policy making, including perceived indecision over how to tackle the Syrian civil war, was denting its regional reputation.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and one of his senior strategists, Amos Gilad, were in the United States when the decision to freeze some Egyptian aid was announced.
Like other officials, Gilad hinted at Israel’s disappointment. “I try not to criticize our friends publicly,” he told an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think-tank.
The Egyptian army is clearing buildings deemed a security threat at a distance of up to one km from the Gaza border, an army spokesman said on Sunday (15 Sep), accusing groups in the Hamas-run territory of mounting joint attacks with Sinai militants.
Ahmed Ali, the spokesman, said the move did not amount to a buffer zone which Hamas fears Egypt is creating along the border to further isolate Gaza, whose economy is propped up by smuggling through tunnels to Sinai.
He was speaking during a news conference in Cairo to present the army’s progress since it stepped up operations against militants in Sinai last week.
The army seized weapons including anti-aircraft missiles, he said. Motorized paragliders had also been found, which he said showed an effort to develop new methods of attack.
The Sinai militants have expanded into a security vacuum that emerged following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The militants have stepped up attacks there since July, when the army deposed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an ideological cousin of Hamas.
Attacks on security forces are now occurring almost daily, and rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a vessel passing through the Suez Canal on Aug. 31.
Ali said the army was “dealing” with any building deemed a security threat in a corridor stretching from 500 meters to one km from the Gaza frontier. He said houses concealing tunnels used for weapons smuggling were a threat to national security.
The army had destroyed 152 tunnels since June 30, he added.
Ali declined to accuse Hamas directly of attacks in Egypt, though he said hand grenades stamped with the name of the Palestinian group’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, had been found in the security sweep.
“There is cooperation between the armed terror groups with their counterparts in the Gaza Strip, and more than one joint operation has been monitored,” Ali said.
Egyptian state media last week reported that Hamas had been involved in teaching Islamists in Egypt how to plant bombs and that it had given them landmines — an accusation dismissed by the Palestinian group as an attempt to demonize it.
Ali said the military on Friday found two bombs beneath a security observation tower with detonation fuses that ran through a tunnel into Gaza. “The detonation was going to happen from Gaza,” he said.
He screened a video in which eight of 18 men detained in the security sweep identified themselves as Palestinian.
Ali gave no toll for how many militants had been killed in the sweep, but said 309 extremists had been arrested. More than 100 members of the security forces have been killed and 140 wounded in Sinai since Morsi’s downfall, he said.
Israeli Drone Strike Inside Sinai Shows a Growing, Sensitive Relationship
By Adam Entous and Charles Levinson WSJ
Israel and Egypt are quietly cooperating to quell Islamist militants along their border, Western officials say, a sensitive relationship illuminated by a deadly Israeli drone strike late last week inside Egyptian territory.
Israel’s intervention in the Sinai Peninsula—which Egyptian officials denied, and which Israeli officials neither confirmed nor denied—would be the clearest manifestation of the high-level interaction between Israeli and Egyptian military and intelligence chiefs, according to the Western officials. Such cooperation between the U.S. allies has increased since last month’s ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, these officials say.
Four Islamists from a little-known group calling itself Ansar Jerusalem were killed in the strike Friday, according to the group, which said the members had been preparing to fire rockets into southern Israel. The strike was conducted by Israel, according to Western officials.
The attack was preceded by communications between senior Israeli security officials and their Egyptian counterparts, Western officials say. The security officials discussed the threat posed by the rocket crew and response options.
The understanding on both sides is that Israel will take direct action only as a last resort if the Egyptians aren’t in a position to stop an imminent threat from the Sinai, Western officials said. Such an Israeli intervention would be “very rare” because of Egyptian sensitivities, according to a senior Western official.
The arrangement shows the extent to which the Israeli and Egyptian militaries have closed ranks against militants massing on the peninsula. Heading west, militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades could target ships carrying oil through Egypt’s Suez Canal. In the other direction lies Eilat airport in southern Israel.
Early Tuesday morning, Egyptian militants fired a rocket at Eilat (in Israel) that was intercepted by one of Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense batteries, according to the Israeli military.
After last week’s drone strike, the Egyptian military denied any Israeli involvement. Egyptian military officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in a written statement issued Saturday: “The State of Israel is aware and appreciates increased activity by the Egyptian military recently against terrorism across the Sinai Peninsula, including this weekend.”
A senior Israeli official, while declining to comment on any understanding between the two countries, said the security situation in Sinai represents a threat to both countries.
“We are respectful of Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai and we are very supportive of Egyptian efforts to deal with these challenges and we have good military to military cooperation,” the official added.
Pentagon spokesman George Little declined to comment on last week’s incident.
Relations with Egypt, a source of stability for Israel before the Arab Spring, have warmed significantly in recent weeks.
Israeli officials have made no secret they welcomed last month’s ouster of Mr. Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement has long-standing ties to Hamas, the Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip.
A senior American official described military cooperation between Israel and Egypt as “better than ever,” building on ties that started improving last fall. After the military intervened against Mr. Morsi, the Egyptian military closed some of the tunnels linking Egypt with the Gaza Strip, which are a lifeline for Hamas. Israel has long pressed the Egyptian military to take such a step.
The Western officials said Israel has in turn used its clout in Washington to try to protect the flow of U.S. military aid to Egypt despite the army’s ouster of the president, arguing that the money helps underpin the 1979 peace accord between the two countries. If U.S. aid is cut off, the Egyptian military could start scaling back their cooperation, Israeli officials have warned their American counterparts.
The cooperation marks a switch from the mutual hostility that followed the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and eventually led to Mr. Morsi’s election. Military-to-military ties established over decades of relative peace were maintained, but tensions ran high.
Israel’s attack on militants in Gaza in late November 2012 put the relationship with Egypt at its post-Arab Spring nadir.
Cooperation between the neighbors took a step forward toward the end of Mr. Morsi’s time in office, when jihadists in the Sinai started targeting the Muslim Brotherhood because they weren’t considered sufficiently Islamist.
With a nod from Israel, according to Israeli officials, Egypt stepped up its military presence in the Sinai.
That relationship tightened in the wake of the military’s July 3 overthrow of Mr. Morsi, which has fueled concerns of a wider fight between Islamists and non-Islamists.
Egypt’s new national security adviser, Raafat Shehata, has deep ties to Israeli intelligence. Another Egyptian intelligence veteran with deep ties to Israel, Gen. Nader al-Aasar, was promoted in recent weeks to head Egyptian intelligence’s international relations branch.
These ties helped facilitate the agreement between Egypt and Israel to make an exception to the three-decade-old Camp David peace treaty and allow Egypt to send a surge of military forces into the Sinai to combat the growing militant threat there, the Western officials said. The Egyptian military has made security of the Suez Canal their top priority.
The Israelis have stepped up their surveillance along the Egyptian border and increasingly into Egyptian territory itself, the Western officials said.
Officials say Israel’s military uses real-time images along the border with the Sinai from blimps, drone aircraft and satellites to spot potential threats, as was the case on Friday.
Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at Center for Strategic & International Studies, said the cooperation reflected a convergence of interests.
“There is a real risk that the Sinai will become an area where the Egyptian military and police are going to lose their freedom of action and ability to move,” he said. “And it’s clear that Israel has every possible interest in stopping that from happening.”
Israeli officials say they have detected in recent months a dramatic increase in the number of militant groups operating in Sinai, as well as upticks in weapons smuggling and an upgrading of weapons capabilities.
Israel intercepted and destroyed a rocket fired from Egyptian territory at the Red Sea town of Eilat overnight, Israeli public radio said on Tuesday.
The rocket fired from the Sinai was intercepted by an Iron Dome battery near Eilat Photo: REUTERS
A group of jihadist fighters said earlier they had fired a Grad rocket on Eilat in retaliation for an alleged Israeli air raid.
An army spokeswoman confirmed the attempted rocket attack and its interception by an Iron Dome battery near Eilat to AFP, but did not say where the rocket originated.
The Mujahideen Shura Council, an armed al-Qaeda-linked group, said in a statement published on a jihadist forum its fighters fired the rocket at 1:00am (2300 GMT Monday).
The rocket, fired from the Sinai, was “a quick response to the last crime by the Jews after one of their drones bombed the Sinai peninsula killing four mujahideen” on Friday.
Another jihadist group, Egypt’s Ansar Beit al-Maqdis which has claimed allegiance to al-Qaeda, has blamed Israel for the Friday strike.
The group accused the Egyptian army of coordinating the attack with Israel, and threatened more strikes against the Jewish state.
“How can the Egyptian army allow the Zionist unmanned planes to cross into Egyptian territory,” the statement asked.
Egypt’s military has denied the claim.
“There is no truth whatsoever to any Israeli strikes inside Egyptian territory and the claim that there is Egyptian and Israeli co-ordination on the matter is utterly baseless,” military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Aly said in a statement on Friday.
Officials told AFP the strike came from the Egyptian military, as part of their campaign to curtail a surge in violence and rein in militant activity in the lawless Sinai.
Witnesses said Egyptian military helicopters hovered above the site after the blasts.
Militants based mainly in north Sinai near Israel’s border have escalated attacks on security forces and other targets since July 3, when the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and installed a new government in Cairo.
But the army has been reluctant to confront the militants inside towns in order not to provoke the tight-knit tribes, military sources say.
The army said it had killed nearly 70 “terrorists” since Morsi’s ouster.