by Hugh Fitzgerald
While in one direction – toward the Gulf – Israeli and Emirati and Bahrain businessmen are making deals, expanding trade, encouraging investments in each other’s countries, promoting tourism in both directions, now that the two Arab states have agreed to normalize ties with Israel – in the other direction, toward Egypt, with which Israel has had a “cold peace” since 1979, a major warming may at last be taking place. Israel and Egypt already cooperate on security matters, as General El Sisi forthrightly said on “60 Minutes.” They collaborate in containing the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains a threat to El Sisi’s regime, and to Israel as well, since Hamas is merely the Gazan branch of the Brotherhood. They also help each other by sharing intelligence on other Jihadis, including remnants of ISIS that have regrouped in the Sinai.
Egypt regards with alarm the attempts by Iran to create a “Shia crescent” from the Gulf to the Mediterranean by employing a network of proxies and allies, including the Houthis in Yemen, Iran-backed Shi’a militias in Iraq, the Alawite-led army of Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. And Israel, which recognizes Iran as a mortal threat, shares Egypt’s deep anxiety about that Shia crescent. Egypt and Israel are thus doubly allies, against both the Muslim Brotherhood and against Iran.
Egypt has joined with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain in attempting to isolate Qatar, a statelet rich from natural gas, that gives succor and support to the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar provides a platform for Yousuf Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born cleric who has lived in Qatar for many decades. Though not formally its head, Qaradawi is the undisputed spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; he broadcasts from Qatar to a worldwide audience of 60 million; he’s the most influential Muslim cleric now alive. Qatar is also being shunned by the same four states because of its continuing friendly ties with Iran. Egypt’s participation in this anti-Qatar alliance has brought the country closer to the UAE and Bahrain, both of which have recently normalized ties to Israel, and to Saudi Arabia, which is edging ever closer to following the trail blazed by the Emirates and Bahrain. Thus Egypt and Israel not only share enemies (the Muslim Brotherhood, assorted Jihadis in the Sinai, and Iran), but also friends (the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain). It’s not surprising that Egypt may now be intent on warming up that “cold peace” it has had with Israel for 41 years.
The report on Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Cairo is discussed here.
Israeli and Egyptian officials are engaged in talks ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official visit to Cairo in the coming weeks, the Maariv daily reported on Monday.
According to the report, Netanyahu is expected to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during the trip, which is said to be focused on bolstering the economic ties between Jerusalem and Cairo.
A bilateral meeting is also scheduled between Israeli and Egyptian trade delegations to discuss joint economic projects and promote business relations.
This trip will come on the back of Israel’s diplomatic gains in the region, with the Jewish state signing US-brokered normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Soon after those deals, the US announced that Sudan also agreed in principle to normalize its relations with Israel.
It’s unclear as of now if Sudan will normalize relations with Israel; it has been insisting it wants in return an American pledge not to prosecute any Sudanese for previous involvement in terrorism during the reign of Omar al-Bashir. That’s a very large ask, and the Americans may not be willing to agree. But there are so many economic benefits, both from having American sanctions lifted on the country, and from what Israel by itself can provide, particularly in providing help to Sudanese farmers, by sharing its advances in drip irrigation, waste water management, desalinization, and producing water from the air (a new method invented by the Israeli company Watergen), all fields in which Israel is a world leader.
Last week, Netanyahu reportedly visited Saudi Arabia in an under-the-radar trip, which saw him meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US State Secretary Mike Pompeo.
The trilateral meeting was focused on the prospect of normalizing the Israeli-Saudi ties and on confronting Iran jointly.
This week, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will visit Saudi Arabia in a last-ditch effort to negotiate a normalization deal between the kingdom and Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
It’s been 41 years since Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty. It has been a cold peace, because that’s how Egypt wanted it. President Mubarak, for example, visited Israel only once during the three decades of his rule – only to attend the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. Egyptians were dissuaded from visiting Israel, and some of those who did go were subject to arrest when they returned home. Israeli tourists were made to feel distinctly unwelcome in Egypt, and in the end repeated terrorist attacks on Israelis in Egypt caused that tourism to dry up. And during those 41 years of the “cold peace,” there were scarcely any economic ties between the two nations, until Israel began selling natural gas from its Tamar and Leviathan fields to Egypt, starting this past January.
But now that may all be changing. Netanyahu’s visit will focus, it has been reported, on economic relations. Egyptians can see for themselves the benefits being reaped by Emirati and Bahrain businessmen as they discuss trade, technology, and tourism with the Jewish state, make investments in Israel, buy Israeli products which can now be found in Emirati grocery stores; they can see Israeli businessmen who are mirror-imaging their new Arab partners, seeking trade and investment opportunities in the UAE (and Bahrain), offering to share with their Arab partners know-how in everything from drip irrigation to cybersecurity to high tech start-ups. The Egyptians have been following how those two Arab states normalized relations with Israel and the sky did not fall. They have picked up the signals from Saudi Arabia that it doesn’t oppose such normalization; the Saudis have granted Israeli planes overflight rights, first to the UAE, and now to anywhere the Israeli planes want to go. Egypt doesn’t want to be left behind, as more Arab states – which will be next? — make their calculations and decide. It makes sense for them to pursue economic ties with the Start-Up Nation in the neighborhood. As for the Palestinians, their furious reaction against the UAE and Bahrain, calling them “betrayers” who “stabbed the Palestinians in the back” has not won them any fans in the Arab states, including Egypt. In early September, the Palestinians demanded that the Arab League condemn the UAE and Bahrain for normalizing relations with Israel; they were turned down flat. Mahmoud Abbas vented his spittle-flecked fury, his impotent rage, in his $13 million palace in Ramallah, but few Arabs bothered to pay attention.
Meanwhile, as Egypt sees the economic benefits accruing to the UAE and Bahrain from their agreements with Israel, it does not want to be left behind. “Within three to five years trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates will reach $4 billion,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told the Reshet Bet radio station. But that prediction was made at the beginning of September. It looks as though, three months later, that amount may be reached not in three to five years, but within two to three years. And Bahrain, a much smaller country, has already signed deals with Israeli businessmen worth several hundred million dollars in the coming year.
Egyptian farmers can benefit especially from Israeli advances in drip irrigation, waste water management, desalinization, and the production of water from air (with the patented technology of an Israeli company, Watergen). Solar energy is another field where Israel can help. Egypt last year completed its massive 1.8-Gigawatt Benban Solar Park, with 7.2 million photovoltaic cells, but it can still benefit from advances in solar energy constantly being made by researchers in Israel, a world leader in the field; the Jewish state is planning to produce 15 gigawatts of solar energy within the decade. Israel has recently, for example, made a major breakthrough — with the help of Chinese researchers — in solar cells made of perovskite.
Israeli foods are already on UAE grocery shelves; these should also be of interest to Egyptian businesses and consumers. It’s up to the Egyptian government to remove barriers to entry of Israeli foodstuffs. It’s the same for Israeli medicines and medical equipment now being sent to the UAE and that could be of immediate benefit, as well, to Egyptian patients, if the decision is made by Cairo to let them in. .
But before any of this can come to pass, there has to be a sustained effort by the Egyptian government to create a less hostile attitude among the people, who remain wary of ties with the Jewish state. Having Netanyahu as a guest in Cairo, followed by a return visit by El-Sisi to Jerusalem, is a first indispensable step in warming things up. Egypt’s government-controlled media can be recruited to run favorable stories on Israel and Jews, instead of promoting hostility as so much of It still does. Stories about the contribution of Egypt’s Jews to the country’s cultural life in the first four decades of the 20th century are a good place to start.
During the “cold peace,” the Egyptian government actively discouraged its citizens from visiting Israel. Those who did so, despite that opposition, were subject to investigation and even arrest on their return home. Now it is time to actively encourage such visits by Egyptians, to remove any stigma that earlier Egyptian visitors to Israel endured. In the past, Egypt prevented university and cultural exchanges from taking place; these should now be encouraged by the Egyptian government. It is the same with sport teams: no Egyptian soccer team has ever played in an Israeli stadium, and no Israeli team has played in Egypt. The government in Cairo can change that policy overnight. While Israeli tourists in the first few years after the peace treaty did visit Egypt, a series of bloody attacks by Muslim fanatics on European tourists, discouraged tourism. The worst attack was at Luxor in 1997 where 62 were killed (including a five-year-old child). There were also terror attacks by Egyptians that deliberately targeted Israelis. These included:
The Ras Burqa massacre, a shooting attack in October 1985 on Israeli vacationers in Ras Burqa, a beach resort area in the Sinai peninsula, in which seven Israelis were killed, including four children. Egypt refused to allow the victims to be treated by Israeli doctors or transferred to hospitals in Israel.
On February 4, 1990, a bus carrying tourists in Egypt was attacked by members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Eleven people were killed, including nine Israelis, and 17 wounded (sixteen of whom Israelis). This was the fourth attack on Israeli tourists in Egypt since the signing of the peace treaty in 1979.
In November 1990, an Egyptian border guard crossed the border into Israel and opened fire with his AK-47 on vehicles on the Eilat-Kadesh Barnea road, killing four people.
Twelve of the people killed in the 2004 Sinai bombings were Israeli.
These attacks help explain the virtual disappearance of Israeli tourists from Egypt. If Egypt makes a sustained effort to provide Israeli tourists and businessmen with tight security, they will return. As for Egyptians visiting Israel, the government in Cairo need only show it now wants to encourage such visits; there is no longer any stigma attached. It should encourage Egyptian businessmen to seek out opportunities in Israel for trade and investment, the way the Emiratis and Bahrainis have been doing. These would include increases in bilateral trade, and possible investments by Israeli businessmen in Egyptian companies, as well as the sharing by Israel of its know-how and advances in a dozen fields, from agriculture to solar energy to computers.
The Egyptian government-controlled media — newspapers, radio, television — can be ordered to run stories to encourage a more favorable attitude toward Israel. Such stories could include coverage of Israeli Arabs who sit on Israel’s Supreme Court, serve in the Knesset, go abroad as Israeli ambassadors. Israeli Jews and Arabs could be shown studying together at universities, working in the same offices and factories, playing on the same sports teams and orchestras, giving – and receiving – care at the same hospitals. These stories would be designed to undermine the preposterous charges about “Israeli apartheid.”
Other stories, for both newspapers and television, could show Israeli advances in various fields. One televised series might be devoted to Israeli achievements in agriculture, including drip irrigation, wastewater management, desalinization, water production from air, and growing seeds from saline soil. A second would show Israeli advances in solar energy – the use of new materials for solar cells, such as perovskite, new ways to store and distribute the energy, and Israel’s ambitious plans to produce 15 gigawatts of solar energy within a decade. Another series might be devoted to Israeli achievements in automobile manufacture, including electric vehicles, million-mile batteries, and self-driving vehicles. Still another might detail Israeli medical advances, including new treatments for cancer and heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and – the latest breakthrough — the printing of 3-D human hearts. Another could be devoted to Israeli advances in computer chips, software tools for e-commerce, cybersecurity, and cyberwarfare. The commentary throughout the series ought to be threefold: first, stressing the theme of how long and successfully Egypt and Israel have already been collaborating in security matters; second, stressing how much Egypt stands to gain from increasing its economic ties to Israel, based on the experience of the Emirates and Bahrain; third, persuading an Egyptian audience just how eager “Israel is to benefit from its economic cooperation with Egypt” so as not to wound Egyptian amour-propre.
The Egyptian media, taking its cue from its government, helped ensure that for 41 years there would only be a “cold peace”with Israel. The Egyptian government has in the last few years become convinced of the value of collaborating with the Jewish state on security matters. And now that it has been impressed with the economic benefits the UAE and Bahrain have already been reaping from having normalized relations with Israel, that same media can be enrolled to undo its previous damage, in a determined effort to warm that cold peace up.
First published in Jihad Watch.