Egypt warns Israeli retaking of Philadelphi Corridor would violate peace treaty

Amr Kandil , Monday 15 Jan 2024

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his ambition to retake control of the Philadelphi Corridor – a 100-metre-wide buffer zone stretching 14 kilometres along the Egypt-Gaza border – Egypt issued a warning about the potential consequences.

Philadelphi Corridor
Egyptian soldiers patrol on a road parallel to the Philadelphi Corridor, a buffer zone that separates Egypt from Israel and Gaza. File/AFP


Netanyahu argues that Israel must control the corridor to ensure Gaza's demilitarization and prevent alleged weapons smuggling through tunnels after the ongoing war.

“The Philadelphi Corridor... must be in our hands. It must be shut. It is clear that any other arrangement would not ensure the demilitarization that we seek,” Netanyahu said in a news conference late in December, reiterating his pledge to eliminate Hamas.

This week, he also mentioned that Israel has various options to close the corridor but has yet to make a decision.

A report by The Wall Street Journal on Saturday cited Egyptian and Israeli officials asserting that such an operation may see Israel removing Palestinian control from the Rafah Border Crossing and stationing forces along the corridor.

Over the past 101 days, Israel has launched unrelenting strikes against northern and southern Gaza and has recently intensified strikes against Rafah on the border with Egypt. Rafah now houses more than a million Palestinians, around half of Gaza’s population, displaced from different parts of the strip due to the Israeli bombings.

Egypt views Netanyahu's remarks as a direct accusation that they are enabling or allowing weapons smuggling to Gaza's resistance groups. Diaa Rashwan, head of the State Information Service, emphasized that Egypt takes these accusations seriously, describing such remarks as “nonsense.”


These continued discussions concerning the Philadelphi Corridor coincide with the Israeli defense team at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Egypt of preventing the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip through Rafah.

Egypt denies these accusations and asserts that Israel is making them to evade its likely condemnation by the court.

Breach of Egypt-Israel peace treaty

In a TV interview on Sunday, Rashwan highlighted that the "occupation" of the Philadelphi Corridor by Israeli forces would breach the annexes of the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty signed in Washington in 1979.

He emphasized that the treaty brought an end to 31 years of war between Egypt and Israel, fostering peaceful relations between the two nations for decades. Rashwan cautioned Israel against unsettling its "greatest neighbour" and the Arab country with which it has engaged in numerous conflicts.

Rashwan issued a stern warning that if Israel attempts to reclaim the corridor, Egypt would defend its national security and the central cause of Palestine, as the two issues are interconnected.

In 2005, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza, Egypt and Israel signed the Philadelphi Accord, effectively terminating Israeli control over the corridor. The accord, officially known as the Agreed Arrangements Regarding the Deployment of a Designated Force of Border Guards along the Border in the Rafah Area, permitted Egypt to deploy 750 border guards along the corridor's Egyptian side to prevent smuggling into Gaza. The accord explicitly states that it is fully subject to the provisions of the 1979 peace treaty.

The peace treaty divides Egypt's Sinai into three zones – A, B, and C – and places restrictions on the military forces that Egypt can deploy in each zone.

The treaty also established a fourth zone – Zone D – inside Israel and encompassing the corridor, in which Israel is only allowed to station four infantry battalions.

Since the signing of the Philadelphi Accord, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, which controlled Gaza at the time, jointly managed the corridor from their respective sides. However, the situation changed after Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007.

“The potential Israeli operations along the Philadelphi Corridor would constitute a violation of the peace treaty, which imposes limitations on the number of forces, as well as the types of weapons and equipment in Zones A, B, and C in Sinai and D in Israel,” Ayman Salama, a professor of international law, told Ahram Online.

He emphasized that the security annexes, including those concerning the Philadelphi Corridor and the amendment of the peace treaty's security annex in 2021, are inseparable from the 1979 treaty.

Salama cautioned that any Israeli occupation of the corridor, which is part of Palestinian territories, would contravene the treaty, emphasizing that any military presence outside the treaty's purview must be coordinated with Egypt.

Potential consequences

According to Mostafa Kamal El-Sayed, a Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Israel might retake the corridor to bolster Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position amidst corruption charges.

“Netanyahu is in a critical situation and I do not exclude that he tries to launch a military act at the Philadelphi Corridor … disregarding potential negative repercussions on relations with Egypt, the United States or the Arab states,” El-Sayed said.

He further asserts that if Israel were to deploy unauthorized military forces, armoured vehicles, or fighter jets in the corridor, it would violate the treaty and could lead Egypt to reconsider its commitment to certain treaty provisions.

On the other hand, Tarek Fahmy, the head of the Israeli and Palestinian studies department at Egypt's National Centre for Middle East Studies, suggests that Netanyahu's intentions regarding the corridor may not be unilateral as portrayed in the media.

Instead, Israel has apparently pursued the establishment of a joint administration with Egypt to oversee the corridor recently, a proposal that Egypt has rejected. Fahmy adds that Israel considers the peace treaty with Egypt crucial and is not inclined to provoke Egypt.

In response to Netanyahu’s remarks regarding the corridor, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu-Zeid stated on Saturday that Egypt controls its borders entirely.

“These matters are subject to security and legal agreements. Any discussion on this issue is subject to scrutiny and will be addressed through official positions,” Abu Zeid stated.

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