Al-Sisi’s game of seduction with Israel (and Washington). Daniel Reichel’s in-depth study for International Affairs
It was since 2011 that an Israeli prime minister did not go to Egypt on an official visit. A ten-year absence, now interrupted by the warm meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Red Sea, between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Three long hours in which the two talked about bilateral relations, Egyptian assistance in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and Israeli prisoners held by Hamas, according to a report from Bennett’s office. The talks also addressed regional issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, an Israeli diplomatic source added to the AFP. On the Egyptian side, official statements spoke of al-Sisi’s commitment to relaunch the peace negotiations, which have stalled since 2014.
Both leaders described the meeting with very positive words. “We have created the infrastructure for deep relationships between us in the future,” Bennett said before taking the plane back to his homeland. And, according to diplomatic journalist Barak Ravid, his entourage would have been struck to see the Israeli flag flying in plain sight in Sharm el-Sheikh. Not only. As soon as the Israeli premier landed, the presidency office of al-Sisi immediately released declarations celebrating the visit and shortly after published images of the two smiling leaders together.
“Egypt sees relations with Israel and efforts to rebuild Gaza as a path to the White House,” an Israeli official told Haaretz, adding that Cairo “needs it” to shift international attention away from the issue of violations of human rights within the country (from the repression of the LGBT world to the Zaki case). According to this interpretation, the great openness shown by Egypt and its role as a mediator in relations between Israel and Hamas are a tool in the hands of al-Sisi to gain accreditation with the Biden-led US administration.
“The White House and Egypt have a history of complicated relations, especially with the presidents of the Democratic Party. Al-Sisi fears that during his tenure, Biden will develop an aversion to the human rights situation in Egypt and take punitive measures against the country – and the analysis of Jacky Hugi, an Israeli army radio reporter. So he set out to capture his heart. The warm hospitality shown to the Prime Minister of Israel and his staff is a conscious operation ”. THE RELAUNCH OF PEACE NEGOTIATIONS
The Egyptian declaration of commitment to promote the two-state solution would therefore be part of Cairo’s attempt to curry favor with Washington. In practice, there will be hardly any updates on this front, also in light of the different positions within the Israeli government.
“My perception is different from that of the Minister of Defense (Benny Gantz), even if we work in harmony. I am against a Palestinian state and I think it would be a grave mistake to import the failed model of Gaza with Hamas, which fires rockets at us, and transform the entire West Bank into that, ”Bennett said in an interview with Ynet. The leader of Yamina’s nationalist right then clearly ruled out that he wanted to meet – unlike what the aforementioned Minister Gantz did – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. “I see no logic in meeting Abbas when he sues our soldiers in The Hague and accuses our commanders of war crimes. In my opinion, the Palestinian Authority is a failed entity ”, his position.
Although in his government Gantz and Prime Minister Yair Lapid are open to dialogue with Ramallah, Bennett reiterated his opposition. The fragile coalition that governs its executive will not risk entering into negotiations. And Egypt is also aware of it. REBUILDING GAZA
With the negotiation issue removed from the agenda, there are many points to work on in the one shared by Egypt and Israel. Starting with the stabilization of the Gaza Strip. After mediating for the ceasefire in May, al-Sisi proposes himself as a point of reference for the negotiations to reach a lasting truce between Hamas and Israel. The late summer border clashes were not encouraging, with the danger of a new escalation just around the corner.
Israel, through the mouth of its foreign minister Lapid, presented a plan nicknamed “economy for security” aimed at rebuilding Gaza in exchange for the disarmament of the Palestinian armed factions. “The electricity system will be repaired, gas will be connected, a water desalination plant will be built, significant improvements to the health system and a reconstruction of the housing and transportation infrastructure will take place. In return, Hamas is committed to long-term peace of mind ”, Lapid’s idea. A possible starting point project for the Egyptian delegation that should arrive next week in Israel to discuss precisely the situation in Gaza.
The Israeli government is demanding that Cairo tightly check what enters the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, in order to prevent the smuggling of materials that may allow Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities. Egypt – which, like Israel, has placed a blockade on the enclave as it is controlled by the terrorist movement – at the same time has promised substantial aid to Gaza for reconstruction. And it is working on reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other Palestinian groups. CAIRO-TEL AVIV
Meanwhile, soon it will no longer be only the Egyptian diplomatic delegations to fly directly to Israel. The flag carrier Egyptair will start operating several weekly flights between Cairo and Tel Aviv starting in October, sources of the airline said.
In addition, the Taba border crossing between Israel and the Sinai, the main gateway for Israeli tourists to Egyptian territory, has been reopened. Signs of a relaunch of bilateral relations also on the tourism front, in addition to the cooperation already underway in the field of gas. A collaboration that is also the result of the excellent relations between al-Sisi and Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The former premier met the Egyptian president several times, cultivating close personal ties and an understanding on various open fronts, from the fight against terrorism to the Iranian question. But the meetings were mostly secret. And here the main difference from the past. Also in the sign of the Abrahamic Agreements, the warm public handshakes between Bennett and al-Sisi, sponsored by the Egyptian authorities themselves, are the sign of an increasingly consolidated relationship between Israel and a part of the Arab world.

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