Reopen the Israeli Embassy in Cairo

Feb. 21 2019

During Egypt’s 2011 revolution, a group of rioters attacked the Israeli mission to Egypt and destroyed the building that housed it; thereafter the embassy’s staff returned to Israel. Although order, and normal relations with Jerusalem, have long since been restored, Israel hasn’t acquired a new embassy and its reduced diplomatic staff in Egypt has been returning home every weekend. The Foreign Ministry recently ordered the staff to stay in Cairo for the weekend—a decision that Izhak Levanon, the former ambassador to Egypt, praises but finds insufficient:

It isn’t viable to lean the countries’ relations on one leg (security-intelligence); the [diplomatic and political leg is also] needed to ensure stability. The current Egyptian regime, headed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, doesn’t hide its good relations with Israel and is fostering a positive atmosphere. This provides a window of opportunity to implement full-fledged, proper diplomatic relations. The Egyptian parliament’s decision to extend Sisi’s term in office for many more years opens the window even further, giving the two countries time to stabilize their relationship on more than just the one leg.

To restore diplomatic relations to pre-2011 normalcy, Israel must quickly find a new building for its embassy and staff, including a consular-services department working to encourage mutual tourism and promote Israeli interests in Egypt—precisely as the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv operates. . . . In the stormy Middle East, close relations between Israel and Egypt are vitally important.

The Foreign Ministry, to be sure, has to contend with complex challenges across the globe, but Israel’s relations with Egypt need to be prioritized. We must not miss this window of opportunity or squander the current regional climate to re-establish the Israeli presence in Cairo as it was before 2011. The Israeli-Egypt peace accord includes agreement on fully operational embassies. [Israel] must move forward with determination to bring this to fruition.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Egypt, General Sisi, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy


What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy