Egypt Asks Israel to Keep Turkey Away From Gaza

Egypt approaches Israel seeking clarifications on reconciliation talks with Turkey, expresses reservations concerning Turkey's potential role in Gaza.

Netanyahu and Erdogan - Reuters
Netanyahu is worried that his reconciliation with Erdogan could harm Israel's relations with Egypt. Reuters

Egypt has approached Israel asking for clarifications regarding recent progress in its reconciliatory talks with Turkey. Senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz that Egypt expressed its reservations regarding granting Turkey a role in the Gaza Strip, and asked whether Israel had committed to any easing of restrictions in the closure imposed on Gaza.

These officials, who asked to remain anonymous due to the delicate diplomatic nature of the issue, stated that what caused the Egyptian government’s displeasure was Israeli media reports from a few weeks ago, according to which a breakthrough had been reached in reconciliation talks with Turkey, as well as reports in the Turkish media that Israel had agreed to take significant steps in easing the maritime siege on Gaza.

Senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials met with Israel’s ambassador Haim Koren and asked if these reports were correct and whether Israel and Turkey are indeed close to reconciling. The temporary chargé d’affaires at the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv delivered similar messages in a recent meeting with senior Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem. Egypt expressed its opposition to any Israeli concessions to Turkey with regard to the Gaza Strip.

The senior officials noted that over the last two years there has been a serious rift in relations between Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The background for this crisis is the support expressed by Turkey’s government and ruling AKP party for Egypt’s deposed president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.

After Morsi was ousted in a military coup d’etat, Erdogan expressed sharp criticism and to this day does not recognize al-Sissi as the legitimate president of Egypt. Following Erdogan’s statements, Turkey’s ambassador to Egypt was expelled in November 2013, with relations since then conducted only at a lower level.

Turkey’s close relations with the Hamas regime in Gaza are another cause for the great tension between Egypt and Turkey. Egypt, which has imposed an almost complete closure on the Strip from the Sinai Peninsula, is interested in maintaining maximal pressure on Hamas and has reservations concerning any easing of restrictions by Israel, particularly if this entails greater Turkish involvement in Gaza.

Last week, Erdogan said that as part of the negotiations with Israel over the agreement, Turkey is interested in sending a ship that would arrive directly in Gaza, providing electricity and delivering construction materials. He noted that Israel has told Turkey that it would lift the siege if aid to Gaza goes through Turkey.

Last week, the Turkish Hürriyet Daily News reported that Turkey demanded that Israel grants it “unlimited access” in providing aid to the Gaza Strip. The report noted that senior Turkish officials said that if Israel allows this, Turkey will consider it a fulfillment of its condition that Israel lifts its siege.

A senior Israeli official said that the crisis between Egypt and Turkey is one of the factors making it difficult to reconcile with Turkey. The official noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is worried that any concession made to Turkey on Gaza in order to patch up relations will damage Israel’s strategic ties with Egypt. He added that senior Israeli officials have tried to mediate between Turkey and Egypt in order to alleviate the tension and soften Egypt’s opposition to Turkish involvement in Gaza, but to no avail so far.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed that Egypt has asked for clarifications from Israel regarding any progress in talks with Turkey. “In the framework of our dialogue with Egypt there is also some talk about Turkey. Egypt wished to know where things stand”, he said.