Jerusalem-Cairo Relations in Jeopardy Over Disagreements Regarding Gaza and the Hamas War

Israel says it must defeat Hamas’s remaining four battalions that are holed-up at Rafah, while Egypt has long opposed a military operation at the city on its border.

Gil Cohen-Magen/pool via AP
The Israeli army chief, Herzi Halevi, attends a ceremony marking Memorial Day for fallen soldiers of Israel's wars and victims of attacks, at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery, May 13, 2024. Gil Cohen-Magen/pool via AP

Disagreements between Israel and Egypt over Gaza are threatening a crucial Mideast relation, even as the Israel Defense Force’s Rafah operation is stalled.  

For now, the IDF is not moving beyond Gaza’s Rafah crossing, some three miles from the Israeli border. Yet, since Israel raised its flag on the Gaza side of the crossing — where much of the humanitarian aid supplied by international donors enters the Strip from Egypt — Cairo has blocked all trucks from entering Gaza. 

To break the logjam, Jerusalem over the weekend proposed that the Palestinian Authority would manage the Gaza side of the crossing, Sky News reported Sunday. Ramallah rejected the proposal, insisting that Israel must first accept a Palestinian state in line with an ill-defined formula known as the Arab Plan. 

Further straining relations, Cairo’s foreign ministry announced its support for South Africa’s lawsuit at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of violating its obligations under the genocide treaty. Another Arab neighbor at peace with Israel, Jordan, is also supporting the ICJ lawsuit.

Israel is universally condemned for impeding aid to Gaza, including when it shut the Kerem Shalom crossing after five IDF soldiers were killed there on May 5. Hamas claimed responsibility for the shooting at a spot where goods enter Gaza. The terror organization’s continued firing at Kerem Shalom is impeding aid deliveries.

The United Nations, which often blames Israel for blocking aid to Gaza, nevertheless declined to assign responsibility for Hamas’s constant shooting at Kerem Shalom, or for Cairo’s blocking of trucks from entering the Strip through the Rafah crossing. 

“As of today, Rafah crossing remains closed, and there is a continued lack of safe and logistically viable access to the Kerem Shalom crossing,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs dryly reported Monday. 

Israel says it must defeat Hamas’s remaining four battalions that are holed-up at Rafah, including the top strategists behind the October 7 massacres, Yehyeh Sinwar and Mohammed Deif. Egypt has long opposed a military operation at the city on its border, fearing that Gazans would pour into the Sinai from there.

Yet, Israeli-Egyptian relations are more complex than they seem. Hamas’s ideological ancestor, the Muslim Brotherhood, is the main threat to President al-Sisi’s regime. Egypt has maintained close intelligence ties with Israel ever since Hamas seized Gaza in a 2007 coup. 

“Israel may not have fully coordinated with the Egyptians this time, since the IDF’s Rafah incursion was done hastily after that deadly Kerem Shalom shooting,” a Western diplomat formerly stationed at Cairo tells the Sun. Then again, he added, “joining a diplomatic attack on Israel at the Hague is an extreme move, made most likely for domestic consumption.”

The Egyptian public gets its news from one-sided, Israel-averse reports on Al Jazeera and similar sources. Cairo’s weeklong blockage of aid trucks at the Rafah crossing accounts for much suffering inside the Strip, but it is rarely reported. 

Another likely dimension of Egypt’s growing tiff with Israel has to do with the IDF’s intention, announced shortly after the war was launched on October 7, to seize the entire nine-mile border between Gaza and Egypt, known as the Philadelphi corridor. 

Following its full evacuation of Gaza in 2005, Egypt deployed guards to its side of the nine-mile border with Gaza. The deployment, as part of an agreement with Israel, was designed to prevent smuggling of weapons and other illicit materials into Gaza. Yet, Hamas’s arms kept flowing in.  

Israelis say that senior Egyptian officers are bribed to facilitate smuggling through tunnels at the Philadelphi corridor. The Egyptians “enabled endless amounts of weapons to go into Gaza underneath the border between Gaza and the Sinai,” a former IDF brigadier general, Amir Avivi, told the Sun. “We see what is going on in Gaza. We know where this all came from.”

The first peace treaty signed between an Arab state and Israel is now in peril due to possible lack of coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo; concerns that the Egyptian public’s ire over the Gaza war would turn against Mr. Sisi’s government; and fears that senior Egyptian generals’ complicity in arming Hamas would be exposed. 

Over the weekend the Associated Press reported that for the first time since signing the peace treaty in 1979, Egypt is considering a break in relations with Israel. Yet, perhaps as a sign that both the Israeli and Egyptian governments prize their ties, Cairo quickly shot down the story. 

“The peace agreement with Israel has been Egypt’s strategic choice for 40 years, and it represents a core pillar of peace in the region for peace and stability,” Cairo’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, told reporters Sunday.

The New York Sun

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