Home News Egypt faces tough choices after Israel seizes Gaza’s southern border

Egypt faces tough choices after Israel seizes Gaza’s southern border


When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans late last year to occupy a sensitive stretch of the Gaza Strip, adjacent to the Egyptian border, Cairo responded publicly, explicitly and ominously.

“It must be strictly emphasized that any Israeli move in this direction will pose a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations,” the Egyptian government said in an English-language statement in January, when Netanyahu announced plans to occupy the so-called “Philadelphia Corridor,” where Egypt says Israel has military forces. would violate the 1979 peace A treaty between two countries.

This week, the Israeli military announced it had seized “tactical control” of the corridor. The Egyptian government has not made any public comments on the seizure of the corridor, despite facing domestic pressure to take a tougher stance against Israel following Israel’s military offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

This silence perhaps reflects Egypt’s predicament after the Gaza war lasted nearly eight months.

Egypt and Israel view their relationship as a cornerstone of national security, making it unlikely that the Egyptian government will take substantive steps against Israel, according to former Israeli and Egyptian officials. For 45 years, peace between Egypt and Israel has been a pillar of stability in the Middle East.

Egypt adheres to the principle of keeping relations with Israel stable and protecting Israel “from the inevitable crises that will result from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” former Egyptian diplomat Ezzedine Fishere said in an interview on Thursday.

“Egypt has been working hard to protect this relationship and to minimise the impact of the conflict,” Mr Fisher said.

Egyptian EconomySudan, already vulnerable before the war, was hit hard by the collapse of traffic through the Suez Canal, which cost it billions of dollars in revenue as ships were diverted due to Houthi attacks in or near the Red Sea.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is concerned about the prospect of Gaza refugees pouring across his border, sensitive to anger in Egypt and across the Arab world over Israel’s bloody Gaza campaign, and wary of the influence of Islamist groups such as Hamas, the successor to the Muslim Brotherhood that el-Sisi ousted in a 2013 coup.

While expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, the Egyptian government has also cracked down on dissent at home. According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, 120 people were detained in the country in the context of pro-Palestinian protests, of whom about 30 were eventually released.

The Israeli military said it entered the border area to stop Hamas from smuggling arms into Gaza through Egyptian tunnels, a claim Egypt strongly denied, saying it had destroyed 1,500 tunnels and reinforced the wall between Gaza and Egypt over the past decade.

Israel’s entry into the corridor this week was part of its offensive against the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which has caused more than a million Palestinians to flee the city, most of whom have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

Israel and Egypt are old enemies who fought several wars from 1948 to 1973 and have clashed diplomatically over Israel’s military operations in Gaza, especially the Rafah offensive. But Egyptian and Israeli authorities now coordinate closely on security issues, with defense officials meeting regularly in Cairo and Tel Aviv.

“Security agents will continue to talk to security agents,” Mr Fisher said. “The border will be managed by both parties and communication will continue. Both parties know that this is in their interest.”

Even so, these relationships are now under considerable strain.

The Gaza side of the Rafah crossing, a vital passage for the delivery of food and other goods, has been closed since Israel seized it in early May. Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian officials have been arguing over who is responsible for the closure and how to restore operations there.

Israeli public broadcaster Kan Thursday evening report Israel and Egypt have agreed in principle to reopen the crossing, but the fundamental question – who will operate it on the Gaza side – remains unanswered. The report could not be immediately confirmed.

In addition, analysts say the prospect of an intensive Israeli military operation so close to Egyptian territory is worrisome for Egyptian and Israeli officials, who want to keep their militaries as independent as possible.

At least one Egyptian soldier Killed in the shooting Egypt’s government and its tightly controlled new media played down clashes between Egyptian and Israeli forces near the Rafah crossing, a clash that could stir public opinion. Both sides said they were investigating the incident.

Egyptian officials have also warned Israel for months against launching a military offensive in Rafah, saying it could have disastrous consequences for Gaza civilians.

Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, said one of Egypt’s main concerns was that Israel’s actions could prompt Gazans to Submerged Mr. Shaked said any discontent in Egypt over Israel’s actions in the Philadelphia corridor would probably be manageable as long as that prospect remained remote.

“Israel and Egypt both understand their real interests,” he added. “Both sides feel nervous, disappointed and frustrated — but they try to hide it.”

Israeli military officials have generally avoided accusing Egypt of failing to combat cross-border smuggling, which some analysts say is an effort to avoid damaging the sensitive and important relationship between the two countries.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari declined to confirm definitively Wednesday that Israeli forces had found cross-border tunnels in the corridor. But an Israeli military official briefing reporters on Wednesday said the army had found at least 20 tunnels from Gaza to Egypt. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to comply with military regulations.

A network of tunnels in the area — with an entrance 100 yards from the Rafah crossing — stretched nearly a mile and included a room used as a hideout for militants, General Hajari said, adding that Israeli forces destroyed the tunnel complex with explosives.

Israeli military officials said “tactical control” does not mean that Israeli troops are stationed at every point along the Philadelphia corridor. But he said it means Israel can effectively disrupt Hamas’ supply lines through the border area. He said the Israeli army is working to dismantle the tunnel network in the Rafah area.

In response to Israel’s announcement of the corridor, Egypt’s state-run news channel Al-Qahera quoted an unnamed senior official as saying on Wednesday night that the claims of tunnels under the border were “baseless.” But the official did not directly respond to the claim that Israel controlled the corridor or threaten further diplomatic action.

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