The covert dimension of Israeli-Egyptian ties
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
The Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry's visit to Israel Sunday, July 10 and the two conversations he held with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that day underscored the intensified ties between the two governments and their leaders, President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi and the prime minister.
The Palestinian issue rated a mention in passing, mostly as useful camouflage to disguise the real business under discussion. This, DEBKAfile's intelligence sources reveal, revolved around a fresh update on the Syrian war and most of all on the sudden reversal of Syria's Bashar Assad's fortunes from wanted war criminal, whose head the US and its president Barack Obama demanded, to the master of a regime and army which is suddenly in the highest demand - even by Obama - as the only reliable military force capable of pursuing the war on jihadi terror, especially ISIS.
This astonishing reversal came to the fore in the last week of June. While putting the final touches on his reconciliation pact with Israel after six years of discord, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sent his intelligence chiefs on a clandestine mission to meet Assad's aides and test the ground for burying the hatchet with him too.
This move was not taken into account by Netanyahu. Erdogan acted on the quiet, while in the midst of yet another maneuver, this one advanced talks for mending relations with the Egyptian president with the help of Algerian mediators who are flitting between Ankara and Cairo, DEBKAfile's sources report.
While taking briefings from his foreign minister on the talks in Jerusalem, El-Sisi tried to assess whether Erdogan's feelers to Assad would ripen into a deal between them If so, the Turkish leader was perfectly capable of jumping aboard the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah lineup on the Shiite side of the Middle East map and ditching the moves led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE for a counter-alignment of Sunni nations.
The answer to this question will determine whether Iran's position in Syria is strengthened or weakened.
Egypt and Israel share a strong common interest in this answer.
Meanwhile the balance of military strength in the region underwent a radical change with the delivery to the Egyptian Navy of its first helicopter carrier, an advanced Mistral-class vessel made in France and paid for by Saudi Arabia to the tune of half a billion dollars. The second carrier is due later this year.
These acquisitions substantially upgrade Egypt's military capabilities as the only power operating in the region in possession of helicopter carriers except Russia.
The highly versatile French amphibious assault ship, equipped with state-of the-art radar navigation and missile defense systems, can carry 16 helicopters plus a battalion of 40 Leclerc tanks and 450 soldiers. This makes the Egyptian navy the primary sea and air arm for defending the shores of the Sinai Peninsula, Suez Canal, the Gulf of Suez, the Red Sea and the approaches to the Gulf of Aqaba - not just against Islamist terrorists but also Iranian expansion.
Since the Saudi, Egyptian and Emirate governments are in close military and intelligence sync for combating the two threats, the Egyptian foreign minister had plenty of urgent business to discuss with Netanyahu.