In April 1982, Israel withdrew the last of its military forces from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. On Friday, for the first time in more than 30 years, Israeli
military assets reportedly reentered Egyptian territory. On August 9, an Israeli drone operating in Sinai airspace with Egyptian approval killed five
militants preparing to launch a rocket into Israel.
The proactive Israeli action may herald a positive new dynamic in Israeli-Egyptian relations. But for the Egyptian military--which depends on popular
goodwill to govern post-coup Egypt--enhanced security coordination with Israel might not be politically sustainable. Already, this unprecedented move has
provoked a backlash against the generals.
Ever since the toppling of Egypt's longtime President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, security in the Sinai--a region long underserved by Cairo--has become
precarious. During the revolution, Egyptian intelligence, which had previously been responsible for securing the Sinai, was routed, leaving the task to the
military -- the country's sole remaining, functioning national institution.
Unenthusiastic about and ill-equipped for the mission, the military did little and security in the Sinai rapidly deteriorated. In a matter of months,
Al-Qaeda and other dangerous Islamist elements started to take root among the increasingly radicalized local Bedouins.
Over the past two years, Egyptian and foreign jihadis--as well as Palestinian terrorists entering the Sinai via tunnels from Gaza-- have launched dozens of
attacks in the Peninsula. While most of the operations have targeted Egyptian police and border guards, on occasion soldiers have been killed and kidnapped
and tourists abducted. Militants have also assaulted and snatched troops in the Multinational Force Observers or MFO, which are deployed in the Sinai to
monitor the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
More potentially destabilizing, these terrorists have infiltrated Israel--killing six civilians and two soldiers in one August 2011 operation--and fired
rockets across the border. Friday's drone strike came just one day after an unprecedented temporary closure of Israel's Eilat airport. At the time,
militants in the Sinai were believed to be preparing to target Israeli civilian aircraft with rockets or shoulder fired missiles procured from
On the positive side, the Israeli strike suggests extremely close security and intelligence coordination between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and the
Egyptian military. The cooperation comes as little surprise: both sides quietly say that mil-to-mil cooperation has never been better.
Confidence is so high that just last month Israel authorized Egypt to deploy two addition infantry battalions to the Sinai to counter the terrorist threat.
This comes after the militaries negotiated more than two dozen Egyptian requests since 2011 to move supplemental troops and equipment, including tanks,
into the desert. In the past month, the Egyptian military has engaged in a crackdown on Sinai terrorism that reportedly killed some 60 militants.