Ties Between Israel and Egypt Only Getting Stronger, Despite Regional Tension

The two nations enjoy not only tactical cooperation, but a convergence of strategic interests as well.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

One of the outcomes of the military coup in Egypt is the stronger bond between Cairo and Jerusalem. Although the two nations want to keep their warmer relationship under wraps, it is hard to ignore the fact that they enjoy not only tactical cooperation the ground, but also a convergence of strategic interests. Considering the dramatic chain of events in Egypt since 2011, it is very hard to predict the coming months, but at least in the short term, Israel’s security situation on its southern and western fronts has seen a major change for the better.

The change actually started in Washington D.C. in July. According to the American press, Israel went to great lengths to smooth things out between the new Egyptian regime and the United States. For the Egyptian generals it was very important that the regime change not be labeled a military coup. In that event, American law would make illegal the yearly $3.5 billion in aid to Egypt, most of which goes toward the military.

Even though the events in Cairo were a coup in every sense of the word, it seems that it was in the American administration's interests to prevent that term from being applied. Israel and its supporters, mainly on Capitol Hill, also played a part.

The Egyptian generals knew how to show their gratitude and Israel is pleased with operations against terror in Sinai and Hamas in Gaza.

Egyptian pressure on Hamas has meant it will not dare even think about firing rockets at Israel or allowing smaller Palestinian factions to do so. The Hamas leadership in Gaza, still surprised and bruised by the violent and effective way the leaders of their sister movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, were deposed in Cairo, are careful to obey.

Before relations with Egypt cooled, Hamas (inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo) stepped out from under the influence of Iran and Syria, and denounced Syrian President Bashar Assad’s civil war. As a result, the flow of money and weapons to Gaza from Iran ceased. Hamas now finds itself at a loss on all fronts.

Over the past few weeks Egypt has shut down most of the hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, and has stopped the transfer of fuel to the Gaza Strip, which means that instead of receiving subsidized fuel from Egypt, Hamas now has to import fuel, at six times the cost, from Israel. Gaza residents can only cross into Egypt via the Rafah border for a few hours every day.

Meanwhile, Egypt is releasing a great deal of information, at least some of which appears untrue, about supposed assistance Hamas and smaller Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip are rendering to Islamist terror groups in Sinai. In Sinai itself, Egypt is operating aggressively against terror cells, most of whose members are Bedouins. More than 100 activists have been killed and hundreds of others have been arrested there since last month, and the number of attempted terror attacks against Israel has declined.

Israel has allowed Egypt to exceed the number of its troops, tanks and helicopters in Sinai as stipulated in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, so it can more effectively fight terror. The Egyptians have also stopped Gaza fishing boats they caught in Egypt’s territorial waters off Sinai.

In Egypt itself the generals are fighting for their lives, and anything goes. An attempt last week was made on the life of the Egyptian interior minister, who is in charge of internal security, apparently by Islamist groups. Fearing further retribution by the military regime, the Muslim Brotherhood was quick to deny responsibility for the attack, in which 23 passersby were injured by a large car bomb. Local media intimated that Hamas may have had a hand in the attack, which is doubtful, but serves to restrain Hamas in Gaza.

The regime has also arrested thousands of Muslim Brotherhood activists, including former ministers. It has shut down the movement’s newspapers, and has imposed limitations on the Al-Jazeera network, considered sympathetic to the Brotherhood.

Pictures of former President Hosni Mubarak have been put up in the streets and Mubarak himself has been transferred to better prison conditions. After all, most of the generals now in power were formerly his men.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry has granted internal security personnel virtually unmonitored and the right to shoot protesters. Brotherhood protests have gradually declined, as General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seeks to impose the fear of the regime on the street. Thus, he pushes the Brotherhood and its affiliated movements into underground terror actions.

In addition to the aid from Washington which continues to flow, Egypt has also received aid from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and Kuwait, with pledges amounting to $12 billion. Meanwhile, the first overtures of reconciliation with Qatar, friend of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been seen with Qatar sending Egypt three ships bearing liquid gas.

Against the backdrop of improved relations with Egypt Jordan’s King Abdullah has refrained over the past year from accusing Israel of obstructing peace with the Palestinians. We may assume that shared strategic interests are behind this change, along with U.S. aid to Jordan.

In the new Middle East, everything seems temporary, and it is hard to know whether this is a start of a wonderful friendship. But it certainly may be said that new alliances and power arrays have emerged from the http://www.haaretz.com/misc/tags/Arab%20Spring-1.476711Arab Spring.

An Israeli flag flutters next to an Egyptian one at the Nitzana crossing.Credit: Reuters

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