Israel’s Covert War on ISIS in Sinai and Deep inside African Desert
On Aug.16-17, the Israeli air force conducted its most extensive assault ever on Ansar Bay al-Maqdis aka Islamic State Wilayat (province) Sinai. For almost two days, F-15 and F-16 jets and a variety of drones pounded ISIS-Sinai bases and infrastructure in every part of the Egyptian peninsula in which the terrorists had struck camp.
Apache assault helicopters chased and picked off the jihadists as they fled the air strikes. And Israeli marine commandos, who landed from the Aqaba Gulf port of Eilat and from the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, raided the ISIS networks embedded in Sinai’s western coastal towns. They found the jihadists getting set to descend on the towns and ports of southern Egypt, as well as Jordan and Israel, and also planning to seize a ship vessel sailing in the Gulf of Aqaba, especially passenger liners for taking hostages.
The vast Israeli offensive – on a scale the IDF had never before undertaken against the Islamic State – was conceived, organized and synchronized down to the last detail with the Egyptian army’s general command. It represented the apex of the covert Egyptian-Israeli military-cum-intelligence cooperation ongoing since last year for crushing Islamic terrorists in their lairs.
Both governments have managed to keep this operational partnership under tight wraps.
The first veiled hint came in a cryptic remark made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday Aug. 17 during a visit to the Israeli Air Force Base at Tel Nof east of Tel Aviv. He was accompanied by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Dep. Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and the Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel.
No obvious pressing reason was offered for the turnout of almost the entire national security elite at this air base at this time. But one of Netanyahu’s comments offered a clue.
He said that the Israeli Air Force had no rival anywhere and that, “It can go anywhere, at any time and perform any mission. That is true as we speak.”
This remark was taken by our military sources as an allusion to an IAF operation taking place at that moment outside Israel’s borders. Furthermore, Maj. Gen. Golan, who was in the party, is in command of Israel’s undercover war on ISIS.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources reveal here that Israel is engaged in fighting ISIS in at least eight foreign countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Chad.
In Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon – Israel, in sync with the US, is engaged in combined operations with Jordanian elite forces; in Sinai, the IDF is in close rapport with Egypt; whereas in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, Israeli forces are attached to the Kenyan and Ugandan high commands.
Military collaboration with Kenya is especially tight for warding off ISIS incursions; in Somalia, the government has won assistance for grappling with the Al-Shabaab insurgency.
Israel not only supplies Kenya with arms systems and intelligence for its counter-terror operations, but has attached officers to the Kenya army to help in the planning of its cross-border strikes into Somalia.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s tour of eastern African nations in the first week of July was widely presented as focused on promoting economic and diplomatic relations.
DEBKA Weekly revealed at the time that his talks with the leaders of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda were mostly devoted to cooperation in the war on Islamist terror.
On his return home, Netanyahu threw out another hint, when he said that important ties had been forged with an African Muslim nation which he was unable to name.
Our sources reveal the unnamed nation as Chad. President Idriss Deby had traveled to the palace of Rwandan leader Paul Kagame in Kigali to meet the Israeli prime minister.
Since then, Deby and Netanyahu have been holding regular phone conversations.
Chad holds the key to the campaign against the Islamist takeover of this part of Africa. Its 40,000-strong army is the largest and most effective force in the field, consisting of ground units, an air force, a Gendarmerie, a Republican Guard, a rapid intervention force, police and a National Nomadic Guard.
The Chad military is fighting three major jihadist terrorist organization: Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Shabaab.
Our military sources report that the Nigerian Boko Haram fears only one army and that is Chad’s. The Chadian army is, however, severely hampered by having to engage three terrorist organizations in two other countries, Mali and Nigeria, without enough fighting personnel to hold onto terrain after it is liberated and purged of terrorist occupation.
AQIM, which mainly infests the fringes of the Sahel Desert south of Chad, has arranged to hook up with an Islamic State force from Libya, which recently crossed through northwestern Chad on its way to their rendezvous. (See last DEBKA Weekly 721: ISIS Regroups after Orderly Retreat from Manjib and Sirte).
Idriss Deby told Netanyahu that he was disappointed in the minimal assistance available from the small French and American special operations contingents present in the area to support his army.
He therefore asked Israel to set up a military-cum-intelligence command center in Chad like the one installed in Kenya earlier this year to help fight al Shabaab.
After the prime minister’s nod, an IDF vanguard team of military and intelligence experts has just arrived in N’Djamena to get the new center up and running.