Egypt and Israel Increase Security Cooperation

By Yousuf Abdelfatah

Recent reports by the New York Times and the Washington Post have revealed that the Egyptian and Israeli governments have been secretly working together on counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai Peninsula.  The fact that the Egyptian and Israeli security apparatuses have been cooperating in recent years has never really been a secret, but the surprising thing about these reports is just how close that relationship has become.

Egypt has had a significant amount of trouble dealing with the extremist surge in its Sinai Peninsula. Unable to successfully counter the militant groups in the region, the Egyptian government has enlisted the help of the Israeli military to quell the threat. For more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out covert air campaigns in Egypt, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside the peninsula, often several times a week.[1] The Israelis have complained that the Egyptians are not following up on their side of the agreement, failing to follow up the Israeli strikes with a coordinated movement of their ground troops.

Both sides have taken care to keep this relationship a secret in an effort to avoid a potential political firestorm. Oftentimes after the strikes the Israeli aircrafts would circle back towards Egypt in an attempt to make it appear as if the unmarked aircraft had come from the Egyptian mainland. Additionally, military censorship prevented Israeli journalists from publishing anything to do with these operations.[2] For their part, the Egyptian government declared Northern Sinai a closed military zone and has barred journalists from the area. When reports of Israeli attacks on militants within Egypt’s borders have surfaced before, Egyptian officials have been quick to vehemently deny them.

This is a remarkable step in the relationship between the two neighboring states. Having fought 3 wars against each other in the last century, this level of military cooperation is astounding. It is also a telling signal of the Sisi regime’s position on Israel and departure from the traditional position of the Arab states. Both parties have an incentive to cooperate when it comes to counterterrorism. These groups operate close to the Israeli border and often pose a threat to the country’s security. At the same time Egypt has been unable to rid the Peninsula of these groups for years. Cooperating here allows both countries to achieve their objectives.  

Egypt is not the only country to see its interests align more with Israel in recent years. As mutual enemies such as Da’esh and Iran have privately brought the interests of several Arab states more in line with those of Israel, concern over the treatment of Palestinians has taken a back seat in the minds of many Arab leaders.[3] Fearing that public outrage over the Trump administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem might jeopardize security cooperation, Egyptian military officials urged journalists not to stir up public outrage, and to even go so far as to attempt to convince the public that the Palestinians should just give up any claims to East Jerusalem.[4] For similar reasons, Saudi Arabia has reportedly been pressuring the Palestinian Authority to accept a curtailed version of statehood that does not include a capital in East Jerusalem.[5]

There are some potentially unintended consequences though, particularly on the forever stalled peace process. The increasing reliance of the Arab states on the Israeli security apparatus (particularly Egypt but also many of the Persian Gulf states) makes it exponentially more difficult for them to apply pressure on the Israeli government in support of the Palestinians.  And as Israel sees that the Arab states are becoming more and more willing to overlook the issue of Palestine, they will likely see less reason to return to the negotiating table or to back a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.


Yousuf Abdelfatah is a senior at Rutgers University where he studies Economics and Political Science.


[1] Kirkpatrick, David D. “Secret Alliance: Israel Carries Out Airstrikes in Egypt, With Cairo's O.K.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Feb. 2018

[2] Jaffe, Greg. “Israelis Target ISIS Fighters in Egypt as Part of Covert Counterterrorism Pact.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Feb. 2018

[3] Tharoor, Ishaan. “Israel's Growing Ties with Former Arab Foes.” The Washington Post the Israeli security apparatus unmarked aircraft

[4] Kirkpatrick, David D. “Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders' Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Jan. 2018

[5] Barnard, Anne. “Talk of a Peace Plan That Snubs Palestinians Roils Middle East.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2017