Sharm El-Sheikh talks

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 24 Mar 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly ponders what the leaders of Egypt, the UAE, and Israel discussed during this week’s meeting in the Red Sea resort.

Sharm El-Sheikh talks
Al-Sisi with Bin Zayed and Bennett

Against the backdrop of the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, and the anticipated signing of a new nuclear deal between Iran and the West, Mohamed bin Zayed, the effective ruler of the UAE, and Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennett, arrived in Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday for talks on regional cooperation and security.

This is Bennett’s second visit to Egypt – he met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi at the Red Sea resort last September – and the third meeting between Al-Sisi and Bin Zayed in less than four months.

The three leaders have been reticent in supporting US-led sanctions against Russia. The UAE, the current Arab member of the UN Security Council, abstained during the vote on a US-Albanian sponsored resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, though it joined Egypt and Israel in voting in favour of a subsequent UN General Assembly resolution.

Since Moscow launched what it continues to refer to as a “special military operation”, President Al-Sisi has spoken to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin by phone. Following a request by the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Bennet visited Moscow in an attempt to mediate the crisis. He was soon followed to the Russian capital by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah ben Zayed.

On Tuesday morning an Egyptian official said it would be wrong to view the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting as signalling the emergence of an anti-US, pro-Russian alliance.

“Of course not: the meeting is to coordinate positions among three key players in the region on how to manage regional stability given ongoing developments in and out of the region,” he said.

A Gulf-based foreign diplomat, speaking before the meeting, said the UAE and Israel, along with Saudi Arabia, are worried about the signing of a new nuclear deal with Iran that fails to accommodate their concerns. The three countries had applauded former US president Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and have been pushing for more conditions to be placed on Iran before the plan is resumed.

Washington’s failure to accommodate the demands of the two Gulf states informed their refusal to acquiesce to Washington’s requests to increase production to stabilise the price of oil following the sanctions against Russia, a key exporter of fossil fuels.

Egypt, for its part, has been striving to maintain a balanced position on Iran. While President Al-Sisi has repeatedly affirmed Egypt’s support for Gulf security, Cairo has not lobbied against the resumption of the JCPOA.

Iran severed relations with Egypt in 1980, following Cairo’s decision to give refuge to the deposed Shah. Subsequent attempts to re-launch diplomatic relations have all stumbled.

While Egyptian officials stress that Cairo’s attempts to accommodate its Gulf allies on the Iran front are part of a bigger picture of Egyptian apprehension over Tehran’s regional ambitions, they also point out that Egypt is at unease about the normalisation with Israel without any linkage to progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front.

According to the Egyptian official who spoke on Tuesday morning, Egypt, the UAE and Israel “share concerns on regional stability” despite their differences.

“It is not unusual for the three leaders to consult with one another, and while it is a new thing for them to meet at the same time this is only to be expected in light of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE,” he said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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