Egyptian Air Force fighter-bombers en route to strike at Islamic State targets in the Sinai, make unprecedented use of Israeli airspace, likely with permission from Jerusalem.
By Yoav Zitun
Egyptian Air Force planes have in recent months crossed into Israeli airspaces part of Egypt’s military campaign against the local Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State terror group, Ynet learned on Tuesday.
The flights are believed to be the first time that Egyptian warplanes entered Israeli airspace since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
The Egyptian aircraft bombed IS targets mere kilometers away from the Israeli border, in the vicinity of El Arish and Sheikh Zuweid in the northern Sinai. Entry into Israeli airspace did not result in any clashes with Israeli planes, presumably because of prior coordination.
Despite Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt and close operational and intelligence coordination, the Israeli Air Force treats any potential entry into Israeli airspace with the utmost seriousness. Warplanes were deployed to the Golan Heights dozens of times over the past year because Syrian planes were making suspicious movements. On the southern front, the IAF’s guiding principle is to act with extreme caution.
An upgrade for anti-IS intelligence
About four years ago, with Islamist forces becoming much more active against the Egyptian military in the Sinai, Israel put the military clause of its peace accords with Egypt into action, allowing the entry of tanks and fighter planes into the Sinai, including the easternmost point near Israel.
The Egyptian forces have taken advantage of this permission, and since then there have been dozens of strikes by their fighter planes and helicopters against terrorist targets in the area.
The Egyptian Air Force has also been operating drones in the fight against the extremist organization, which counts in its ranks about 8,000 people – considered ISIS’s most efficient arm in the Middle East because of its ability to execute attacks against Egyptian military forces daily and kill dozens of security personnel every month. The main challenge for the local military, and for Israel as well, is intelligence – the local IS branch operates in a very compartmentalized way, without using phones, and across a huge mountainous area in the heart of the Sinai region.
Israel believes that two videos recently released by the organization in the Sinai in which it calls for renewed attacks against Israeli targets, were not empty words – even though they have yet to lead to concrete threats.
The IDF and Shin Bet have increased their efforts, with the latter establishing a special department for gathering intelligence in the Sinai area. Ynet has learned that more resources have recently been allocated to intelligence gathering on the Egyptian border because of threats by IS. Even so, assessments the IDF Southern Command suggest that intelligence about a possible ISIS terror attack against Israel will come shortly before it is supposed to happen, if at all.
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