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August 1, 2016 2:45 pm

Egyptian Political Analyst: Cairo-Jerusalem ‘Partnership of Necessity’ Blossoming Since Ouster of Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo: Screenshot.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo: Screenshot.

Egypt-Israel ties have been strengthening in the three years since the military coup that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi, a Cairo-based political analyst wrote on Friday.

In an op-ed published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Arabic-English website Fikra Forum, Mohamed Soliman said that this flourishing relationship – which sprouted in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government – has been a two-way street.

“Shortly after the July 3 [2013] military intervention, Israel began unequivocally backing the new regime,” he wrote, continuing,

Israel launched diplomatic missions in Washington and several major European capitals to support Egypt’s new political situation and prevent a diplomatic blockade on Cairo. Nor were these efforts unrewarded; Egypt-Israel relations have witnessed unprecedented growth during the [Abdel Fattah el-]Sisi regime, often driven by Sisi himself.

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When Sisi became the country’s de facto leader, his first challenge was the series of terrorist attacks against the military in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt’s security partnership with Israel immediately came into play; Sisi’s government coordinated with Israel, which gave Egyptian forces the green light to deploy in northern Sinai’s B and C Zones to fight armed Takfiri groups with heavy weapons, armored vehicles, and air incursions.

These actions went directly against what is stipulated in the security appendix of the Camp David Accords, and they demonstrated the flexibility and coordination between Egypt and Israel early in Sisi’s tenure. Confronting armed groups in the Sinai has remained one of the most important security issues shared by both countries. Israel itself has conducted a number of aerial intelligence missions to uncover terrorists’ hiding spots. However, in an attempt to avoid controversy Cairo has not made public the nature of its military-security partnership with Tel Aviv.

According to Soliman, the honeymoon hasn’t been without its pitfalls, the main one surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

He explained, “In his first presidential address in 2014, Sisi stated: ‘We will work to achieve the independence of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem.’ With this, Sisi seemed to stake his position on the contentious issue of East Jerusalem, dating back to former president Anwar Sadat’s opposition both to Israel’s annexation of the East Jerusalem territory and the claim of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

However, Soliman added, the very fact that Sisi openly expressed support for a two-state solution “also weakened the position his supporters were attempting to build against Islamist groups, Nasserists, leftists, and the Salafist Nour Party – all of whom catered to popular opinion by refusing to recognize the State of Israel and claiming all Palestinian lands as solely Arab.”

Soliman also said that none of Sisi’s supporters have been able to cause him to budge on his pro-Israel positions. On the contrary, he asserted, “Sisi has instead turned the former narrative on its head, insisting that Egypt-Israel relations are a necessity in light of their shared regional foe: Hamas, seen as an extension of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, Sisi has shifted Egypt’s role with Israel from that of an ‘existential struggle’ to a partnership of necessity.”

On the diplomatic front, too, wrote Soliman, both Sisi and Netanyahu have benefitted from the budding partnership. As Sisi has taken on a mantle of “peace mediator,” which helps him internationally, Netanyahu can go along with nothing to lose – particularly since Egypt has not placed any preconditions on negotiations.

In addition, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israel last month and met with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem – rather than in Tel Aviv – a move that was symbolic, as it ran counter to the “traditional diplomatic taboos” adhered to by all Egyptian presidents since Hosni Mubarak.

Nor was this the only symbolic gesture made during the trip. Shoukry was photographed next to a bust of Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the state of Israel, which “appeared to send the message that he had reconciled the contradiction between Herzl’s Zionism and the land’s historical Arab foundations.”

As if that weren’t difficult enough for Sisi’s critics on the Egyptian street, Shoukry and Netanyahu watched the European soccer championships together – a signal from both leaders that their countries’ relationship is being cemented both politically and personally. It was also a way to allay concerns in Egypt about its deteriorating role in the region as a result, among other things, of Israel’s rapprochement with Turkey and outreach in Africa.

Essentially, concluded Soliman, “Cairo believes that relations with Israel are strategically and diplomatically beneficial for the Sisi government and the country’s regional standing. This trend towards greater rapprochement is likely to continue; there are even hints that Egypt will extend an invitation to Netanyahu to come to Cairo for a historic visit, much like that of Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977.”

The Fikra Forum, where Soliman’s article first appeared, is a self-described “online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists. At a time of dramatic change across the region, Fikra Forum is the first near real-time, fully translated Arabic-English blog to provide a two-way platform for those in the region seeking to shape the future of their countries and US-based decision-makers and opinion leaders who are trying to understand and support those efforts.”

Soliman is an engineer and a member of the Dostour Party’s political bureau in Egypt.

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