The less visible and most pernicious part of the relationship between Egypt, Israel, and the US revolves around the besieged Gaza Strip.
This week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced another step forward in ties with Egypt months after his first visit to the North African country in September 2021.
"Cooperation between the two countries is expanding in many areas, and this contributes to both peoples and to the stability of the region," he said, referring to the start of direct Israeli flights to Sharm El-Sheikh on Egypt’s Red Sea coast from next month.
In mid-February of this year, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi won praise from the Israeli government for a special performative greeting of Tel Aviv’s energy minister, Karin Elharar, at an international conference held in Cairo. Just days later, it emerged that Israel had approved a new transportation route for gas exports to Egypt.
One day before Israel announced its latest move to cement ties with Egypt, the US had also approved the sale of F-15 fighter jets to the North African country. Egypt has long been one of the top recipients of US foreign aid, with the administration of US President Joe Biden contemplating sending $1.43 billion in foreign aid to Cairo in 2022.
All this goes to say that the United States clearly values their relationship with President Sisi, and there’s no wonder why. Egypt is a key player in the pro-US Middle East axis, which consists of states like Israel, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
To this day, Egypt, the UAE, and Israel work closely on many regional projects. Cairo and Abu Dhabi support warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya; Israel announced in January 2020 that it would begin exporting its gas supplies to Egypt. In the September of that same year, Abu Dhabi signed a normalisation deal with Tel Aviv.
Egypt is key for the United States and its Middle East allies, as it commands one of the strongest militaries in the region and can serve as a negotiator and backer of pro-Washington hegemonic endeavours.
However, the primary reason behind the need for the US’ support of Egypt, is the role it can play in facilitating Israeli security. Egypt and Israel’s blockade on Gaza in 2006 following Hamas’ victory in parliamentary elections intensified into a coordinated siege in 2007, after the organisation’s takeover of the enclave.
Whilst the democratically elected governing party in Gaza, Hamas, refuses to deal directly with Israel and vice versa, Egypt has become a key intermediary that has aided calm between the two sides.
After Israel’s 11-day assault on Gaza in May 2021, during which at least 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed, Egypt was widely commended for its role in facilitating the ceasefire which ended the conflict.
It was Cairo, not the United Nations or any other superpower, that did most of the heavy lifting, and as a result of the positive image won by Egypt for its efforts, the Egyptian authorities have attempted to continually build on a stable ceasefire between both Hamas and Israel.
Several rounds of talks at cementing a stronger ceasefire have taken place since last year's assault, including indirect Hamas-Israel prisoner swap talks. Egypt has even stepped in to do much of the reconstruction work in Gaza, as this is one of Hamas’ pre-conditions to continue holding to the ceasefire—little to ask, considering this is simply in line with the demands of international laws.
Yet, as the Palestinian population in Gaza, considered by experts at the United Nations to be living in an uninhabitable area as of 2020, suffers from the brutality of the Israeli-Egyptian siege, the Egyptian involvement in using Gaza as a means of establishing legitimacy and strengthening ties with foreign powers should raise eyebrows.
Unless Egypt maintains a stable relationship with Hamas, the Gaza Strip will be on the brink of further collapse and an even greater humanitarian crisis.
As one of the most densely populated areas on earth, Gaza’s civilian population suffers from nearly a 50 percent unemployment rate and a decimated economy, where 69 percent of households are food insecure and dependent on international aid to survive. Gazans, roughly half of which are under the age of 18, live in an environment ravaged by four large scale military assaults, where 97 percent of their water supply is contaminated, often referred to as a slow poisoning of the population.
Whilst Israel is the main perpetrator of the blockade, Egypt’s compliance, along with the destruction of a complex supply network of tunnels, has meant that it is left with no lifeline for Palestinians who are also isolated and largely unable to flee.
Therefore, the tightening of ties between Israel and Egypt comes as no simple equation of economic cooperation. Instead, it fits into a wider trend of compliance that, despite what is presented, doesn’t benefit Palestinians in Gaza and works towards a US-aligned model of Middle East hegemony.
Just as Palestinian political parties from across the spectrum have slammed the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan for their normalisation deals with Israel, Egypt’s advancement of ties cannot be viewed through a different lens.
As two far greater powers than Hamas in Gaza, Egypt and Israel should be working towards sustainable outcomes for the Palestinian people, including ending the siege on Gaza and reviving the coastal enclave economically. However, in reality, the opposite is true.
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