Sissi 60 Minutes: president confirms Israel helping fight Sinai jihadists.
Egypt’s president has confirmed that Israel is helping Egyptian troops battle jihadists in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told CBS News that cooperation between Cairo and Jerusalem was tighter than it had ever been, in comments published late Thursday.
“That is correct… We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis,” he told the US news outlet when asked if the military coordination between the countries was closer than it had ever been.
The comments came during an interview with the channel’s “60 Minutes” program that is slated to air Sunday evening. According to CBS, Sissi has subsequently demanded that the interview be pulped, apparently over questions about human rights abuses and the deaths of protesters, but the channel has insisted it will be shown nonetheless.
In February, The New York Times reported that Israel was covertly carrying out a full-blown aerial campaign against Islamic State targets in Sinai, with Sissi’s blessing. The Israeli aircraft are reportedly often unmarked and sometimes use indirect routes in a bid to cover up the origin of the strikes.
Israel and Egypt had never previously confirmed the existence of the campaign.
“Only the Egyptian army is authorized to and does conduct military operations in specific areas in northern Sinai, in cooperation with the civilian police,” Egyptian military spokesperson Tamer al-Rifa told Russia’s Sputnik news shortly after The New York Times report.
Since the army toppled Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been killed in attacks in the Sinai by jihadists and other extremist groups, including the Islamic State-affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
Sissi has ordered a series of devastating operations meant to return calm to Sinai’s restive north, carrying out large bombing campaigns that have killed hundreds, as well as razing homes to create a buffer zone with the Gaza Strip.
Jihadists regularly claim to have been targeted by Israeli aircraft.
According to foreign reports, Israel has conducted drone strikes in the peninsula on Islamic State targets. Cooperation has also reportedly taken the form of significant intelligence sharing.
More publicly, since 2013, Israel has also allowed additional Egyptian forces into the peninsula, beyond the level permitted under the 1979 peace accord between the two countries. Heavy weapons, like tanks, artillery and attack helicopters, have been brought into Sinai to fight the Islamists, a sign that Jerusalem is not concerned those big Egyptian guns could be turned against it.