Desperate El-SISI Ready to Loose ISIS Terror against Israel to Save Egyptian Troops
Notwithstanding the jihadist clouds gathering over Sinai, Egyptian-Israeli relations have never been so cordial for many years – even when Hosni Mubarak was in power.
President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi talks by phone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at least twice a week. Contrary to the demilitarization clauses of the 1979 peace accord, Israel has quietly allowed Cairo to build the Sinai Peninsula into a huge military base for fighting the local wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Massed in Sinai today are 13 Egyptian battalions, hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers, F-16 fighter-bomber jets and Apache assault helicopters.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, the two governments are closely intertwined on both the military and the intelligence levels. Israel passes to the Egyptian army data on ISIS movements in the hidden wadis of Sinai, as it comes in from the spy satellites and drones which Egypt lacks.
On occasion, when Egyptian forces could not move fast enough to swoop on terrorists detected on the move, Israeli drones stepped in to polish them off.
El-Sisi has also received Israeli heads-ups on assassination plots against him and heads of his regime.
Netanyahu and El-Sisi air regional issues, share Gaza burdens
In their biweekly conversations, El-Sisi and Netanyahu discuss regional issues of common interest, like Iran, the Yemen war and Hizballah, their shared enemy which is in cahoots with the Egyptian president’s archfoe, the Muslim Brotherhood.
They have also discussed at length the situation in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has given fugitive Muslim Brothers asylum.
The Israeli premier has gone out of his way to cultivate friendly ties with El-Sisi, viewing him as an important player in the regional pact he envisions among moderate regional nations – Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates – for countering the Iran-led Shiite bloc fostered by President Barack Obama.
Acting on the prime minister’s directives, Israel’s security agencies work closely with their Egyptian counterparts on Gazan and Hamas issues. And, in the last couple of months, Israel has taken off Egyptian shoulders the role of senior supplier to the Gaza population of foodstuffs and building materials, including cement and iron. Day by day, around 1,000 Israeli trucks discharge essential goods in the Gaza Strip, roughly ten times as many as in the past.
To all intents and purposes, the Gaza Strip is no longer under economic blockade.
Israel initially encouraged by dialogue with Hamas
This changed circumstance boosted the covert, informal dialogue Israel and the radical Islamic Hamas launched for a five-year truce and non-aggression pact.
They made progress on two pieces of business: A Hamas undertaking to halt the rocket fire which plagued Israeli civilian locations for years and instructions to its West Bank cells to desist from terrorist attacks on Israeli targets. Israel would then discontinue its attacks on Gaza and provide economic and financial benefits to shore up the Hamas regime.
Nonetheless the trickle of rockets continues. It is attributed to Salafi extremists rather than Hamas, although the Hamas regime is held accountable.
On the table too was a plan to open up the Gaza Strip to commercial shipping. To overcome arms smuggling, a floating port was projected to be manned by Israeli or international security inspectors.
Until recently, high-ranking military and security officials were so encouraged by progress on the Hamas track that they proposed expanding Israel’s ties with Hamas at the expense of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the rival Palestinian group, Fatah.
Dialogue stalls as Hamas builds up arms supplies to ISIS
However, the impasse in the Egyptian military campaign against terror, and the covert Hamas-ISIS partnership (see a separate article on this) led the prime minister to hedge his bets on Hamas.
In any case, three stumbling blocks stood in the way of progress:
1. Muhammad Deif, the chief of Izz-e-Din Al-Qassem, Hamas’s military arm, and his deputy Marwan Issa, are adamantly opposed to any negotiations with Israel. The group’s political leaders are not strong enough to impose their will on the military wing.
2. Marwan Issa has developed close relations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps heads and Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah.
3. While discussing a truce with Israel, Hamas continued to expand its tunnel network – especially the branches connected to Sinai through the divided border town of Rafah – and is busy transferring quantities of arms into Gaza and thence to Sinai.
Hamas is committed to transferring half of these supplies to ISIS-Sinai (as disclosed in a separate article in this issue) and is therefore playing a double game.
Nonetheless, a group of Israeli officers persist in keeping the dialogue with Hamas afloat at a low level.
Amazed by the huge quantities of weapons passing through contraband tunnels in recent weeks from Gaza to Sinai, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Israeli military intelligence now counts Hamas as ISIS’s leading arms supplier.
Cairo’s scheme for diverting terrorist attacks from Egypt to Israel
They were even more astounded to learn about a new Cairo directive to Egyptian forces in Sinai to turn a blind eye to the smuggling tunnels running through Sinai to the Gaza Strip, despite the huge volume of weapons they regularly bring to the Islamist terrorists.
It turned out that Hamas was secretly bargaining on a third track, this one with Egypt and at Israel’s expense. President El-Sisi and his staff were ready to discuss the following deal: Hamas would keep ISIS Sinai supplied with weapons via the tunnels, in return for which the Islamists would hold their fire against Egyptian troops and security officers. Instead, they would turn their attacks to Israeli targets from the Egyptian Sinai border and the Gaza Strip.
The discovery that the Egyptian president was desperate enough to throw Israel as a bone to ISIS to get the terrorists off the backs of Egyptian troops in Sinai, was brought to the attention of the prime minister, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Eisenkott.
On Monday, Aug. 10, Israel disclosed the capture of a Hamas operative employed in the Rafah smuggling tunnel system. Ibrahim Sha’er, 21, revealed under questioning that a terrorist tunnel was planned to run from Rafah to the Kerem Shalom border terminal – never mind that this is the main supply hub for essential goods to be trucked to the Gaza Strip population. He also supplied locations of the tunnel network’s branches – from entrances to exits.
The point of publishing this episode was to let Cairo know that Israel was onto Egypt’s scheme.