BANGKOK, Thailand -- Israel has taught the Philippine Army for the
first time how to fight Muslim separatists and communist guerrillas,
the latest tightening of relations between the two nations which
includes Israeli weapons sales and sharing intelligence about
international Islamist extremists.

Even though Israeli boots were on the ground just in the capital
Manila, it risked alienating some of the Philippines' nearly six
percent Muslim population who live mostly in the south.

They are already battered by years of increasing Islamist demands for
independence and the subsequent worsening violence in a country that
is more than 80 percent Roman Catholic.

Perhaps to dampen any controversy, only about 10 Israeli Defense Force
(IDF) soldiers trained 180 Philippine Army troops who can now then
teach those lessons to other soldiers.

The June 26-July 4 Counter-Terrorism Trainer's Training (CTTT) focused
on how to fight an insurgency in urban and rural zones and use combat

"The CTTT is the first training collaboration between the Philippines
Army and the IDF to be held in the Philippines," said Philippine Army
spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala.

"Although they have different experiences, there are similarities, so
it's important that we establish a methodology on how to go about our
anti-terrorism and combat techniques," Lt. Col. Zagala said.

Relations between the two U.S. allies have rapidly grown stronger and
more personal during the past few years between Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Philippine Air Force plans to buy from Israel millions of dollars
worth of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems' medium-range, surface-to-air
SPYDER missiles, plus Hermes long-range drones.

Those weapons would bolster earlier purchases of Israeli drones,
radars and 100 armored vehicles.

Tel Aviv-based Ratio Oil Exploration Ltd. hopes Mr. Duterte will award
it exclusive rights to explore for oil and natural gas off the
Philippine coast near northeast Palawan province, according to
Manila's Department of Energy.

The Philippines has fought diverse rebel groups during past decades
and some peace deals have been struck. But other battles are

The bloodiest clashes involve the military's inability to defeat
Islamist guerrillas known as Abu Sayyaf.

The rebels have waged battles for independence on Muslim-majority
southern islands for several years using bombings, kidnappings and
beheadings which have killed more than 150,000 people on all sides.

"We recovered parts like head, feet. Both of them are male. We still
don't know if they are foreign or local," the army's Joint Task Force
Sulu spokesman Gerald Monfort said July 2, describing a likely
double-suicide bombing which killed five people on June 28 at a
military base.

"Our main suspect is Abu Sayyaf. They are the only one with a motive
to sow terror" on Jolo island in the Sulu archipelago, Mr. Monfort
said according to Reuters.

In January, Abu Sayyaf were suspected of setting off two bombs,
minutes apart, on Jolo island destroying a Roman Catholic cathedral
during a Sunday Mass which left 20 people dead and wounded 111.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility,
according to their news agency Amaq.

In 2017 on nearby Mindanao island, hundreds of Abu Sayyaf and other
ISIS-linked insurgents including foreigners besieged Marawi, the
biggest Muslim city in the Philippines.

For five months, desperate government troops bombed and assaulted
Marawi's urban maze until they crushed the rebels.  Authorities said
920 guerrillas, 165 soldiers and at least 45 civilians perished in the

Much of Marawi was reduced to ruins and 300,000 residents fled.

During a four-day visit to Israel in September 2018, Mr. Duterte
thanked Mr. Netanyahu for helping to end the Marawi siege which "could
have dragged on were it not for the very substantial and crucial
equipment" from Israel.

"The help that you extended was very critical in winning the war," Mr.
Duterte said without elaborating.

Both nations "share the same passion for peace, we share the same
passion for human beings, and we share the same passion of not
allowing our countries to be destroyed by those with corrupt
ideologies," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu replied: "Mr. President, we remember our friends. And
that friendship has blossomed over the years, and especially over the
last few years."

The two countries will develop "military and intelligence products and
hardware," the Philippine government said at the time.

Smaller Islamist rebels have also staged attacks in the southern
Philippines and pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Israel's military training may also strengthen Philippine troops
elsewhere against communists.

In Negros Oriental, a central province, two anti-personnel landmine
explosions on June 24 killed one soldier and injured two others during
clashes with Communist Party guerrillas known as the New People's Army

The government condemned the rebels because the NPA and Manila earlier
agreed to stop "indiscriminate bombings, shelling, strafing and the
use of landmines."

During the jungle fight, "improvised landmines that were planted" made
it difficult for troops to seize an abandoned rebel camp where they
discovered ammunition, documents and other items, the government

Manila's military relations with Tel Aviv include the Philippines'
entanglement with Beijing.

"Israel and the Philippines maintain close security ties, with Israel
selling a large amount of weaponry to the Philippine Army over the
years. And with tensions in the South China Sea, the overall flow of
arms to the region has spiked," the Jerusalem Post reported.

The Philippines is among several nations in territorial disputes with
China in the resource-rich sea.

"Duterte has said in the past that he sees Israel as an alternative
supplier of weapons, and during his visit he told President Reuven
Rivlin that he intends to buy military equipment exclusively from
Israel because of the country's lack of restrictions, unlike the
United States and other countries have refused to sell him arms over
human rights violations," the Times of Israel reported.

Mr. Duterte is internationally condemned -- including among Israelis
-- for his war on drugs which allegedly resulted in thousands of
extrajudicial street executions, mostly by security forces, after he
took office in 2016.

To personalize his visit to Israel, Mr. Duterte brought his daughter
from his first wife Elizabeth Zimmerman.

"My [former] wife is a Zimmerman...a descendant of an American Jew,"
he told Israelis.

Israel has repeatedly praised the Philippines for sheltering more than
1,300 Jewish refugees from Nazi-controlled Germany and Austria during
the Holocaust, and being the only Asian nation to vote for the U.N.
Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947 before establishing diplomatic
relations in 1957.

As a result, Israel allows Filipino tourists to visit for 90 days
without a visa.

Mr. Netanyahu said his father, who died aged 102, "received incredible
care by a caregiver from the Philippines, a woman of exceptional
compassion and intelligence" who was among 30,000 people from the
Southeast Asian nation currently working in Israel, mostly in health