The Nov. 3 assassination of Mohammad Namnam looked pretty much exactly like the fiery deaths of a lot of other Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip over the years. He was making his way in broad daylight through the tattered streets of Gaza City when his sedan turned into a fireball. The missile arrived from an Israeli helicopter hovering so far away that onlookers at first thought the explosion was a car bomb.There has always been a huge disconnect between how Egypt acts towards Israel in public and in private. Some of the low-key ties are mandated by the peace agreement and by trying to please the US, but even Egypt knows that Israel is a reliable partner for Egypt's security.
The death was not routine, however. Israel has refrained for months from assassination by missile, just as Hamas, the fundamentalist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, has held back from launching homemade rockets into Israel. And the dead man was a senior operative not of Hamas but of another, more extreme militia called the Army of Islam. Namnam, a senior commander of the group some analysts describe as linked to al-Qaeda, was tracked and killed after Israeli security operatives learned that he was preparing a terror attack on U.S. forces stationed in the Sinai Desert not far from coastal Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas.
But the most striking element of the operation was the source of the tip: Egyptian intelligence gleaned news of the plot from Army of Islam operatives captured earlier in the Sinai. Egyptian security forces work to interdict arms and explosives on smuggling routes that run across the vast expanse from Sudan to Gaza. But sharing the intelligence on Namnam with their Israeli counterparts marked a level of Egyptian cooperation not seen by the Jewish state in years. "Egypt is helping much more," a security source in the region tells TIME.
The Army of Islam plot was aimed at the northern base, called El Gorah, about a dozen miles west of Gaza, apparently hoping to kill Americans. U.S. forces account for almost 700 of the approximately 1,600 military personnel assigned to the Multnational Force and Observers (MFO). Normand St. Pierre, head of the MFO office in Cairo, says Israel and Egypt share responsibility for the forces' security. "The relationship between the countries is really up to them, and I think they know things work better when they cooperate," St. Pierre told TIME, adding that he knew of no specific threat to El Gorah.