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Shifting Chess Pieces in the Middle East

February 5, 2018
Plain English Version

    The area of conflict in Northern Sinai is circled.

Israel has few friends in the Middle East. Most Arab governments support the rights of Palestinians who live in the West Bank of Israel. They say Israel is a nation occupying land belonging to those Palestinians. A two-state solution is still the one preferred by most parties.

There is an old saying: “Politics make strange bedfellows.” It means that, while we may be enemies, someone else may be a common enemy. We should join forces to defeat the that enemy.

That is what is happening in Egypt’s Northern Sinai.

The jihadists in Egypt’s Northern Sinai have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. They have killed hundreds of Northern Sinai soldiers and police officers. At one point, they seized a major town for a brief time.  The jihadists have set up armed checkpoints to establish their claim to the territory.

In late 2015, they brought down a Russian passenger jet.

Egypt appeared unable to stop them. Israel became alarmed at the threat just over the border. Israel decided to take action.

Unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters, and jets have carried out a secret air campaign for the past two years. It conducted more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt. The strikes were often more than once a week. They all happened with the approval of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Egypt and Israel are now secret allies. They are in a hidden war against a common foe, the jihadists.

The war shows just how much politics in the region is changing.

The two nations have common enemies. They are Islamic jihadists, also known as ISIS. A few Arab states are now working with Israel. But their officials and news media continue to regard the Jewish state as the enemy.

 The Egypt and Israel alliance is a big secret. For sure, the two countries are not talking about it. The military strikes are working. Egypt is regaining control of the area.

Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David accords forty years ago. It gave Northern Sinai back to Egypt. The Gaza Strip sits on the border between Egypt and Israel. Egyptian forces have helped Israel reduce the flow of goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. Hamas is a terrorist group. It controls the Gaza Strip.

What does all this mean? So far, the Egypt – Israeli conduct of the war is secret. Egypt worries about the reaction of its people to working with Israel. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood held power in Egypt for a short time.

The world can expect more “secret” alliances among historic foes. The Middle East will continue to boil.

Source: The New York Times February 3, 2018

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