Egypt’s military spokesperson Tamer al-Refai refuted the validity of a New York Times article, which reported that Israel regularly conducts airstrikes in North Sinai, in comments to Russian news agency Sputnik on Sunday.
“This report is incorrect and doesn’t bare the least resemblance to the truth,” Refai said, in response to the article, which was published on Saturday. “Only the Egyptian Armed Forces carries out military operations in certain areas of Sinai, in cooperation with the police forces.”
The New York Times article reported that Israeli jets, drones and helicopters conducted over 100 airstrikes on militant targets inside North Sinai in the past two years, with the approval of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It called Egypt and Israel “secret allies in a covert war against a common foe.”
Sisi intended to keep the airstrikes secret, telling only a small circle of military and intelligence officers about the cooperation, according to United States officials quoted in the New York Times’ report.
The report also quotes seven US and United Kingdom officials as stating that the Israeli campaign, which was carried out with unmarked drones, jets and helicopters to give the impression they were Egyptian aircraft, helped Egypt gain the upper hand against militant groups active in the region.
An Israeli military reserve unit was stationed close to the Israeli border with central Sinai in January of this year, according to privately-owned Israeli newspaper Maariv. The unit, based near Nitzana, was created with the objective of deterring potential threats from Sinai-based militant groups.
The new unit is the nucleus for a larger one that will be stationed by the border in the coming months, according to Colonel Avi Rahamim, the commander of the Sagi Brigade, which is responsible for monitoring the western Negev Desert. He told Maariv that the unit is comprised of 20 soldiers equipped with armored vehicles and advanced logistical equipment.
“There is an awareness that anything could happen at any time,” the unit’s head Yehuda Avni told the Israeli newspaper. “We are very aware of what’s happening on the other side of the border and we are ready for any eventuality.”
In February 2017, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman hinted to Israeli Army Radio that the Air Force carried out airstrikes in Egypt, killing five members of the Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai after the militant group shelled Israeli territory.
Reports of Israeli activity targeting civilians and militant groups in Sinai began to emerge in 2012, revealing that military personnel would enter Egyptian territory to preemptively arrest migrants thought to be heading for Israel and hand them to Egyptian authorities. In 2015, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper similarly reported that the Egyptian military had allowed an Israeli unit to enter Sinai and arrest Sudanese and Eritrean migrants who tried to cross the border.