JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Middle East is in a "big mess" due to American passivity in the region, which may have prompted Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to attack Islamists in Libya, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt said.
According to four unnamed senior American officials, Egypt and the UAE "secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya" two times in the last week, the The New York Times reported.
The paper described it as "a major escalation of a regional power struggle" that was sparked by Arab Spring revolutions.
According to the officials, the United States was caught off guard since Egypt and the UAE didn't inform Washington, effectively sidelining the Obama administration.
So far, the UAE has said nothing and Egypt denied the attacks twice, former Israeli Ambassador Zvi Mazel told CBN News. He added that they probably did it in the "framework of fighting Islamists."
Mazel said it's important to understand the situation as Egypt sees it. The central Libyan government lost control of the country. There's a concentration of jihadi terrorists along the Libyan-Egyptian border, whose mountainous desert terrain is hard to control.
Jihadis who infiltrated into Egypt from Libya are believed responsible for several attacks, including one in which 23 Egyptian soldiers were killed, Mazel said.
Though Egypt can't stop the jihadis without a central Libyan government in charge, there's a certain logic from an Egyptian point of view, he said, calling the situation in the Middle East a "big mess."
With the U.S. disengagement from the Middle East over the past three years, the terrorists came to fill the vacuum.
And since the United States isn't trying to stop the terrorists -- except for a few airstrikes in Iraq -- Egypt feels it must protect itself. So it's not surprising Cairo wouldn't tell the U.S. if it were involved in attacking Islamists in Libya, he said.
According to Mazel, the United States is still trying to "digest" the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood was pushed from power by the current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after the Brotherhood hijacked the popular revolution for democracy toward Islam.
On top of that, the United States is at odds with the Middle Eastern countries -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- who are opposing jihadis, Mazel said.
For those who live in the Middle East, he said, "It's a mess. [We] can only weep."