While the visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain has been pushed to an indefinite date, reports emerge that the Israeli premier now intends to visit Egypt, where he will meet the country’s president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Netanyahu has been to Egypt before. In 2009, he met with then-president Hosni Mubarak in a bid to urge him to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.
In 2018, he reportedly met with Al-Sisi in Cairo, where he flew to mull over security and the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, purportedly held by Hamas in Gaza.
This time around, if this visit ends up taking place, Netanyahu will be discussing the economy and the bolstering of trade between the two nations, according to speculations in the press.
Egypt’s economy has been knocked into a pit by COVID-19. Its once-blossoming tourism industry started losing some $1 billion a month, many businesses have shut their doors and unemployment rates, which had been relatively low before the pandemic, now promise to exceed 11 percent by the end of this year.
These and other economic issues are set to dominate the agenda of the two leaders, if they end up meeting, but Zvi Mazel, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt says the meeting will not be restricted to discussion of the economy and is likely to include security and diplomacy too.
“The incoming Biden administration is perceived as a problem in Egypt, primarily because it brings back the memories of Barack Obama, who accused Cairo of violating human rights and suspended military assistance to the Arab country. They fear that history could repeat itself, so they want to consult with the Israelis.”
But it won’t be for consultation purposes only, and the former diplomat believes the threat of Iran will also be on the table.
Iran has reportedly moved to increase its uranium enrichment, and is on its way to nuclear independence. Following the targeted killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist, speculations run high that he might have been killed by Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad.
This development keeps Israel on its toes, with officials in Jerusalem saying Iran might be just few months away from obtaining a nuclear bomb that can be used against the Jewish state and other regional rivals, allegations that Iran denies.
“Egypt is not that threatened by Iran. It is a big country and President Al-Sisi doesn’t condemn it that often, so Tehran is not in a rush to engage in a battle with it. Having said that, Cairo is still concerned about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activity,” said Mazel, adding that the common interests are likely to bolster relations between the two countries.
Improvement of Ties?
However, it is not only those common interests that tie Israel and Egypt together and Mazel says the Jewish state’s new friends, the UAE and Bahrain, have also contributed to the rapprochement.
“It was clear that once Israel signs agreements with those Gulf nations and once the states exchange delegations, Egypt will follow in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain and boost its own cooperation with Israel. It is all a matter of time.”
That, however, will not be enough to change the perception of Israel in the eyes of the Egyptian public.
Only a week ago, a joint photo of an Israeli singer and an Egyptian actor stirred an uproar on social networks in Egypt, and some have even called for the boycotting of the celebrity for his “support for Zionists“.
For a country that perceives Israel as the most hostile state, this is hardly surprising, and Mazel explains this stance by attributing it to history.
“What still dominates the mood in Egypt is the nationalistic school of Nasser and the Islamic establishments like Al Azar, both of which are against the normalisation with Israel. Al-Sisi wants to change that because he realises the importance of Israel. Let’s hope that during the upcoming visit this issue will be addressed too and decisions will be made, for the benefit of the entire region.”