Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, to assure him that his country is committed to the 1979 Camp David Accords that ended three decades of conflict between the two countries, the Arab-language Al-Hayat newspaper reported Friday.
This marks the highest-level contact so far between Israel and newley elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who assumed power in June following the country's first free presidential elections.
Few details about the conversation have been made public. The issue is highly sensitive because Egypt cannot be widely perceived in the Arab Street as collaborating with Israel. And Israel has to hold firm on its stance that the Sinai not be militarized lest it face public outcry. Egyptian troops and tanks entered Sinai last week without informing Israel of the move.
"We must make sure that every detail (of the peace treaty) is upheld, otherwise we'll find ourselves in a slippery slope as far as the peace treaty is concerned," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the press earlier this week.
Israel has been closely watching military maneuvers in Sinai where Egypt has deployed troops to root out Islamist extremists suspected of using the clandestine tunnels between Egypt and Gaza to stage attacks inside Egypt near the border crossing at Rafah. However, since both countries are fighting a common enemy - armed radical Islamists - Israel has given cautious pass on elements of the treaty that prohibit the military buildup in the peninsula.
Israel's daily Haaretz on Friday reported that an unnamed Egyptian military official said that the military operation, called "Eagle," required coordination with Israel. It's not known whether this alleged coordination is simply a line of communication between Cairo and Tel Aviv to assay concerns about the motives for the military maneuvers or whether it involves shared intelligence.
Washington has weighed in on the issue. On Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamal Amr about "the importance of working through the security challenges in the Sinai in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt's security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the Washington Post.
Al-Sisi was appointed chief of defense Aug. 12 after Mursi unexpectedly dismissed Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who had been praised by Washington for the military's support of elections that brought Morsi to power.
Al-Sisi stirred up controversy in April when he publicly defended virginity-test procedures that were forced on 17 women who were detained last year during tenses moments in the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo.