Egypt and Israel discuss common agenda in rare visit
CAIRO - Stalled Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking featured highly in talks between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem but equally pressing issues figured in the conversation, analysts said.
“The fact is that Israel and Egypt had other things to discuss, which, at the end, underscores close coordination between the two countries,” political analyst Abdel- Monem Halawa said.
Shoukry became the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit Israel in nine years when he met with Netanyahu July 10th. Atop the list of issues discussed, analysts in Cairo said, was the course both Egypt and Israel would take regarding regional challenges.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was, as Israeli Ambassador in Cairo Haim Koren put it in an interview with the Associated Press, quick to realise that his country and Israel are “in the same boat”.
The countries face similar threats, analysts said, from battling Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, very close to the Israeli border, to countering Iran’s influence in Arab countries and the Horn of Africa.
“Egypt and Israel are forming their own alliance in the fight against ISIS-linked jihadist groups in Sinai,” international relations specialist Hassan Wageh said. “ISIS poses serious threats to Israel’s security as it does to Egypt’s security.”
The Egyptian Army has been battling an ISIS-linked insurgency in Sinai for almost three years.
Israel, which in its landmark 1979 peace treaty with Egypt insisted on the demilitarisation of vast parts of the Sinai peninsula, allowed Egypt to deploy heavy military equipment there to fight ISIS. Israeli drones were reported to be actively hunting ISIS militants in Sinai’s deserts at Egypt’s request.
Wageh said Israel is not immune to the fallout from battles in Sinai due to coordination between Sinai jihadists and Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip, despite the ideological differences between the two groups.
Egypt has several times accused Hamas of supporting militants in Sinai.
It was no coincidence also that Shoukry’s visit to Jerusalem came only days after Israel signed a reconciliation agreement with Turkey after six years of strained relations, analysts said. The deal opened the door for the delivery of Turkish aid to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The move, experts said, puts Egypt on the spot and subverts Egyptian efforts to coerce Hamas into reconciling with Fatah, the rival Palestinian faction in the occupied West Bank.
According to Tarek Fahmi, the head of the Israel unit at the National Centre for Middle East Studies, an Egyptian think-tank, Israel sent Egypt a copy of its reconciliation deal with Turkey for review ten days before the deal was signed on June 28th.
“This was made to assure Cairo that the deal will not come at its own expense,” Fahmi said.
Talks between Shoukry and Netanyahu in Jerusalem also involved the Syrian civil war, especially Turkey’s sudden shift from total animosity to Syrian President Bashar Assad to its efforts to contain him.
A delegation of Turkish intelligence officials was reported to have recently been sent to Damascus to meet with Assad’s intelligence officials.
A rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus may allow détente between Turkey on one hand and Iran and Hezbollah on the other.
“This alarms everybody in the region because it will turn potential regional alliances upside down,” Halawa said. “It can tip the scales in favour of Iran’s camp, which is why Israel and Egypt are deeply concerned.”