The bad news is that an Israeli drone strike killed five Egyptians in Sinai last week; they were, it is alleged, “jihadists” who intended to launch a rocket against Israel. Even worse news is that the operation was coordinated with the Egyptian army. More disturbing still was the fact that both sides of the current polarised political situation tried to use the incident to their favour. The pro-Morsi camp gloated while the pro-coup supporters were sceptical about the whole thing as official statements flitted between denial and confirmation.
This confusion was evident in the statement from the Egyptian military spokesman. The borders, he claimed, are a “red line” which nobody can touch; the authorities, he added, are combing the area of the explosion.
The army’s confusing and confused statement came out when international news agencies were broadcasting confirmation that Israel had carried out a cross-border strike in Egypt. Israel’s Channel 1, Channel 2 and Channel 10 were unequivocal in their bulletins: an Israeli aircraft had launched a raid in Sinai. Channel 1’s primetime “Yoman” programme is presented by Ayala Hasson. Her conversation with guests Oded Granot, the Arab affairs commentator, and Amir Bar-Shalom, the military affairs commentator, went like this:
Ayala Hasson: “Mubarak’s regime cooperated with us [Israel] greatly and deeply. His chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman served as the channel of communication for coordination and cooperation in all fields. However, both Mubarak and Suleiman kept security cooperation a secret. On the other hand, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi cooperates with us openly and explicitly. How do you explain this?”
Amir Bar-Shalom: “If you ask any of the army leaders and the security establishment (in Israel), they will all answer that the security cooperation shown by the leadership of the Egyptian army at the moment is unprecedented and sudden. Egypt considers the cooperation as part of its relentless war on terror in Sinai. Further, the security cooperation keen with the Egyptian army is considered a message to the American officials who had been critical of the coup led by General Al-Sisi. It is an attempt to persuade supporters of Israel in the United States of the importance of moving and encircling the votes in Congress calling to criticise the coup led by the army, as Senator John McCain did during his recent visit to Egypt. On this occasion, it should be known to all that the Israeli government is very disturbed by the campaign waged by some Republicans against the new situation in Egypt. Israel believes it is important to continue to support the Egyptian army because it is the guarantor of stability in Egypt and the entire region”.
Oded Granot: “The raid carried out by Israel is considered an investment and employment of what is happening in the Arab world, especially the defections that have occurred to the waves of the Arab Spring. What is happening in Egypt and Syria represents an opportunity for Israel to ensure a large and influential margin of manoeuvre.”
At that point, Amir Bar-Shalom interrupted: “We must not forget that the Egyptian army is the one which provided Israel with the information that led to the temporary shutdown of Eilat Airport the day before the raid.”
Of course, any analysis and information emanating from Israel should be treated with caution, including praises and admiration for the military commanders in Egypt. However, what I do not understand is the Egyptian authorities’ reluctance to announce the raid in Sinai. I do not find anything wrong in admitting that this is an unacceptable assault on the sovereignty of Egyptian territory, even if it happens under the guise of combating terrorism. I believe that the Egyptian position would be more transparent and respectful when it demands of Israel an apology for what happened. It might also be an opportunity to demand the reconsideration of the security arrangements in Sinai.
Israel apologised to Egypt in August 2011, while the military were ruling the country, after it bombed a security facility in Alqontilla, killing and wounding 5 security personnel, including an officer. Israel explained then that it had been chasing jihadist groups but had to apologise because the Egyptian revolution was in its infancy and Egyptian demonstrators had attacked the Israeli embassy and forced its ambassador to flee under cover of darkness. If the latest raid was dealt with transparently it would be over and done with. Rallying behind the army against external threats is a public duty.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.