Sunday 4 December 2022 - 11:22

Israeli-Egyptian Relations on Fault Line as Netanyahu Coming Back

Story Code : 1028449
Israeli-Egyptian Relations on Fault Line as Netanyahu Coming Back
Shortly after Avi Maoz, the head of the far-right Naom party, described Egypt an “enemy” country, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz published a statement to defend Israeli-Egyptian relations. 

The controversy began on Monday, when the Israeli Makan Radio broke the news about the intention by resigned government of Yair Lapid to build a “memorial” for Egyptian soldiers killed in 1967 war. 

According to the Israeli radio, by making such a decision, the Israeli officials aim to gain the satisfaction of Egyptian President Adel Fattah el-Sisi who had told Tel Aviv that public feelings were hurt after news of mass graves of Egyptian soldiers killed by Israelis in the Six-Day War. 

The Israeli radio at the same time reported that an Egyptian delegation is tasked with coordination with the Israeli side for building the memorial. 

According to this Israeli media, if the memorial to the Egyptian commandos is built, it will be the third one of its kind to be built for Egyptian forces in the occupied territories. 

After these reports , Maoz, whose party is within the upcoming government led by Likud party and Netanyahu, criticized the resigned government and in a Twitter post asked: "How can you build a memorial to enemy soldiers?" Only under Lapid government such “ridiculous ideas” are made, he went on. 

In order to prevent a diplomatic crisis, Gantz, in a statement, regretted Maoz’s remarks, and reminded that Egypt is "Israel's strategic partner" and called Cairo an important ally and naming it an enemy is a “big strategic mistake.” 

But it seems that Gantz's attempt is a belated and futile move to paint normal the relations with Egypt, and even before Netanyahu's new government is formed, behind the scenes, their relations are chilly. 

Recently, many reports talked about emerging crisis in the Israeli-Egyptian relations. The Israeli media have made strong attacks on the Egyptian officials. The latest campaign took place a few weeks ago, when several Israeli media outlets, including Israel Hayom newspaper and Channel 7, accused Cairo of preventing Egyptian citizens and businessmen from visiting Israel, as well as harassing those who support normalization. 

Channel 7 dedicated a program to what it called harassment of the Israeli tourists visiting Sharm El-Sheikh or other Egypt resort cities. Some tourists said that their cameras were seized by the security forces and damaged as “spying” devices. 

The presence of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at Arab League summit in Algeria, where resolutions were issued condemning the Israeli occupation, supporting the inter-Palestinian reconciliation and resistance to the occupation, and warning against the dangers of normalization were bad news for the Israelis. The summit was skipped by Saudi and Emirati leaders who were branded “traitors” to the Palestinian cause and liberation struggle by social media activists. 

Also recently, Egypt expelled 11 Israeli pilots for violating the country's airspace with four small planes, and Cairo authorities refused to provide fuel for their planes to return in an unprecedented move. 

The presence of Israeli media in the Sharm El-Sheikh UN climate summit was another area of tensions between the two sides. Though the Israeli president participated in the summit, the Israeli media were not allowed, except for rare cases, to freely interview the Egyptian citizens, contrary to their free movements on Qatar for World Cup. In Qatar, although Israeli media are not restricted, a majority of Arab citizens, even those of normalizing states, refused interviews with the Israeli media. 

Tensions are so high that even secret visits by Israeli security officials to Cairo, including last month's visit by Shin Beit director Ronen Barr, failed to mend their relations. 

Rai al-Yaum newspaper has recently revealed that Egyptian newspapers and websites have accused the Israelis of organizing attacks on the Egyptian army in order to put pressure on the Egyptian leadership. 

Israeli strategists still consider the Egyptian army a great potential threat and want to weaken Egypt's military power as a potential enemy, because the Egyptian society and the army, on the other hand, still believe that the Israeli regime is the biggest threat to the national security of Egypt and the whole Arab world. 

Rai al-Yaum, citing home resources, reported that the Egyptian army is now angry with Israel more than any other time since Cairo signed the Camp David Accords with Tel Aviv in 1978. The Egyptian army was infuriated after sources revealed that the Israeli military burned alive and buried 80 Egyptian soldiers in Latrun in 1967 war. In addition, the Israeli violation of commitments made Cairo unable to fulfill its promises of help to reconstruct Gaza and release Islamic Jihad prisoners in the Israeli jails as a mediator after 2021 war. This has proven damaging to the Egyptian credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians and Arab world. 

These realities have caused Israeli ’cold peace’ with Egypt in recent years to be not only colder, but also tense compared to Arab states that normalized with Tel Aviv. Four decades after Camp David Accords, Egypt's annual trade with the Israeli regime is still a few hundred million dollars, while Israeli trade with the UAE with a much smaller population compared to Egypt has now reached $1.5 billion and is expected to triple in the next two years. 

The outlook for these cold relations under an Israeli cabinet with hard-line figures is unclear. Experience suggests that despite demagogic slogans, the hardliners have made important concessions to Egypt. For example, when the right-wing first took power in 1977 with the victory of Menachem Begin, it soon became clear that the new PM was ready to return to Egypt all of Sinai, which was occupied in 1967 war. 

Tel Aviv-Cairo bilateral relations tend to distancing and more tensions. Far-right cabinet of Netanyahu now sees no home obstacle to legalize the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. At the same time, allies like Itamar Ben-Gvir are preparing for the open show of worship in contested Al-Quds— a move that would very likely boost Palestinian resistance position in Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, and Lebanon and cause Muslim public outrage across the region in condemnation of sacrilege of holy sites. This is something Egypt as a key actor in the Palestinian developments cannot simply ignore.