Israel has been rethinking its geopolitical and military strategies in the wake of calls for a military and intelligence helping hand for the Egyptian army’s efforts to stabilize the country, after unseating Muslim Brotherhood rule, and secure the Suez Canal, Gulf of Suez and Sinai areas against armed Islamists.
The Saudi King Abdullah was not the first to change his habits by turning from remote-control to hands-on policy-making in the Arab world.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, too, reacting to the turbulence around Israel, woke up from four years as a passive onlooker – with occasional interruptions, and is finally getting involved in the business of the neighborhood..
The courses of action currently adopted by Riyadh and Jerusalem share two more striking similarities:
1. Both keep their thoughts and decisions close to their chests. Just as King Abdullah cut away from his advises and ministers for lone decisions on Egypt and the Middle East, Netanyahu struck out with new plans, without referring to Israel’s cumbersome democratic paraphernalia of ministerial panels and parliamentary process.
He confers only with his inner circle of four advisers.
Abdullah and Netanyahu avoided referring to Washington
They are: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who doesn’t always see eye to eye with him; Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who is in close rapport with Netanyahu; outgoing National Security Adviser Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yakov Amidror, who often disagrees with the boss – mostly about the Iranian nuclear program and the negotiations with the Palestinians, although Netanyahu still places his full trust in him; and Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen.
Netanyahu occasionally calls in IDF Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Benny Gantz for consultations on operational matters, but he is not a regular member of the top team.
2. The second similarity is that both Abdullah and Netanyahu opted to act in the Egyptian crisis without bringing Washington into the picture.
The Saudi monarch has generally adopted a path diametrically opposed to the Obama administration’s line on the Middle East, whereas the prime minister felt independent action would serve the best interests of Israel’s national security.
Instead of working in harness with Washington, Netanyahu decided to go along with Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Will he follow this up with unilateral action against Iran’s nukes? We have no answer to this for now.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources describe how the back-channel interchanges works.
The link from Israel goes through the office of Egyptian Defense Minister and leader of the coup, Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and straight to him in matters of high importance.
The Egyptian general is no stranger to Israel: He has kept up the ties he cultivated with Israeli military and intelligence officials from the time he served as commander of Egyptian forces in northern Sinai, and later in the Sinai Peninsula at large.
Tip-offs keep Egyptian military abreast of external threats
Netanyahu and the Saudi royal court communicate via tête-à-têtes, usually in Amman, Jordan, between Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Director of Saudi Intelligence Service Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Communications with United Arab Emirates rulers go through the UAE office of interests in Tel Aviv or senior Israeli intelligence officials on visits to Dubai.
The Israeli and Egyptian military cooperate in two areas:
a) Intelligence on external dangers.
Israel shares with Cairo its input on the external dangers hanging over Egyptian military moves from different directions in the region, such as Iran, Muslim Brotherhood branches, the Islamist Hamas and other Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip.
A corner of these hidden links was revealed Wednesday July 10 by partial disclosures by Israel and Egypt of what happened to a Gazan Palestinian, who disappeared during a visit to Egypt earlier this month and turned up in Israeli custody on charges of security offences. His Israeli lawyer said he did not know how Wael Abu Rida, 35, from southern Gaza, ended up in Israel. According to his wife, Amari, she traveled with Abu Rida to a town near Cairo to seek medical treatment for their son two weeks ago. That was when he disappeared.
Israeli intel and drones to support Egyptian offensive
Our intelligence sources are also convinced that it was an Israeli tip-off and insistence that led the Egyptian defense minister to sack Gen. Rifat Shahteah as head of military intelligence Friday, July 5 and replace him with Gen. Muhammed Tohami.
Israel passed the word that Gen. Shaheah, a Morsi appointee, was a confidante of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Gen. El-Sisi accepted the view that a Brotherhood loyalist should not be trusted with this important and delicate job.
b) Military and intelligence support for Egyptian Sinai operations
Israel’s blanket intelligence coverage of the clandestine activities of Sinai Salafist groups associated with al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, are being transmitted to the Egyptian military in support of its operations against their networks and strongholds..
Thursday, a senior Egyptian official said at least 150 Ezz a-Din al-Qassam operatives (members of the Gaza-based Hamas military wing) were seen heading into Sinai via smuggling tunnels. Over the past few days, Egyptian security forces have killed 32 Hamas operatives and arrested another 45 on charges of complicity in terrorist actions in Sinai.
Israeli intelligence also posted advance updates on the secret cells the Brotherhood had planted in Sinai for striking Egyptian strategic targets in the event of its removal from power.
The Egyptian military offensive revving up this week for launching against this terrorist infrastructure will rely heavily on Israeli intelligence and air force drones.