Crossing red lines

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 31 Jan 2024

Al-Ahram Weekly reports on how Israeli actions in Gaza are deepening the diplomatic crisis with Egypt.

Palestinians displaced by the Israel air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip sit next to the bord
Palestinians displaced by the Israel air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip sit next to the border fence with Egypt in Rafah / photo: AP


Monday’s meeting in Cairo between Israel’s Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar and Egyptian General Intelligence Service Chief Abbas Kamel came against the backdrop of growing tensions between the two countries as the ongoing diplomatic crisis caused by Israel’s continued war on Gaza deepened in the face of Israeli plans to assume control of the security zone between Egypt and the beleaguered Strip.

Israel informed Egypt that it intends to enter the Rafah and Philadelphi Corridor that runs along Gaza’s southern border to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons via tunnels that Israel claims run beneath the area. Israel does not intend to remain in the area permanently, according to Israeli media reports.

The declaration provoked a strong response from Egypt. Head of the State Information Service Diaa Rashwan said the move was “an attempt to legitimise” Israeli government plans to occupy the border corridor in violation of security agreements signed by the two countries.

“These false allegations do not serve the peace treaty which Egypt respects. Egypt demands the Israeli side also respect the peace treaty and desists from making statements that further strain bilateral relations,” he said.

Rashwan said the Israeli plan was an attempt to deflect from its failure to achieve its Gaza war objectives. He urged the Israeli government to carry out “serious investigations within its army, state agencies and other sectors of society to search for those involved in smuggling weapons to Gaza for the purpose of profit,” adding that “many of the weapons currently inside the Gaza Strip have been smuggled from Israel.”

“Israel’s behaviour, especially after 7 October, has been unjustifiably arrogant,” Ahmed Youssef Ahmed, professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after 7 October that he would take revenge in a way that would change the Middle East and in December announced that the war would not be finished until Gaza is cut off from Egypt and Israel has full control of the border.

“Yet after 115 days of war in Gaza he has failed to free the captives or eliminate Hamas. His arrogance is now leading him to talk about the Philadelphi Corridor as if it is a no man’s land. He says Israel is still considering what it will do with that corridor, ignoring the fact that there is a binding agreement between Egypt and Israel governing corridor,” Ahmed continued.

Under the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978, the Philadelphi Corridor is a demilitarised zone. Egypt has had full control over the area since 2005.

The Israeli move followed unconfirmed reports that the US had pressured President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi not to recall Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to Ahmed, Egyptian public opinion favours the recall in response to repeated Israeli calls to force Palestinian from Gaza into Sinai. Egypt has repeatedly rejected mass expulsions which would liquidate the Palestinian cause, dash hopes for a two-state solution and pose a threat to Egyptian national security.

“What Israel has been doing in Gaza is not a response to the Hamas military operation on 7 October but an attempt to destroy an entire people,” said Ahmed. More than 26,000 people have been killed, 60,000 injured, educational and health institutions, and more than two-thirds of buildings destroyed.

As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza intensifies, Egypt has been amplifying calls for a ceasefire in regional and international venues. In a phone call on Monday, President Al-Sisi updated German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Cairo’s efforts to press for a halt to the war.

During a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Friday, Al-Sisi reiterated that the continuation of the war on the Gaza Strip would have significant impacts on regional security and stressed that regional stability is linked to reaching a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

A day before his meeting with Bar, Kamel met CIA Director William Burns and Mossad head David Barnea in Paris to discuss the release of Hamas captives. Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Thani was present at the discussions.

While Israel described the Paris meeting as constructive, Netanyahu’s office noted significant gaps remain which the parties will continue to discuss.

Also meeting in Cairo this week, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan reiterated demands for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and access for humanitarian aid to the Strip.

Shoukri called on the international community to press Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and halt the starvation, collective punishment and forced displacement of Palestinians from their land. Bin Farhan underlined the need for a binding resolution from the international community to end the crisis, stressing that collective punishment of the Palestinian people is a clear violation of international law.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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