Archive for the ‘Israel and Egypt’ category

Palestinian unity deal signed – but partial

October 12, 2017

Palestinian unity deal signed – but partial, DEBKAfile, October 12, 2017

Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, has fought three wars with the Jewish state and its armed wing is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the European Union and other powers.

Israel has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that contains Hamas ministers.

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Gaza’s Rafah crossing passes from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority on Nov. 1;  the enclave’s central administration – on Dec. 1

The Egyptian-brokered deal hailed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the end of the rift,” is cautiously seen in Cairo as a partial resolution of the dispute between the Fatah and Hamas rival factions.

The reconciliation accord was announced at dawn Thursday, Oct 10, by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh after night-long negotiations at the Egyptian intelligence ministry in Cairo. The promised news conference at which details of the agreement were to be revealed by Egyptian mediators and Palestinian officials did not take place.

Egyptian sources reveal that seven points of agreement were hammered out:

  1. The two Palestinian parties will meet in one month to set out the date and modalities for elections to the presidency and parliament.
  2. Before then, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will spend a few days in the Gaza Strip, his first visit there in a decade since Hamas ousted his Fatah party in a military coup..
  3. A joint Palestinian Authority-Hamas commission will determine procedures for the merger of the PA and Gaza governing administrations. The future of the 60,000 people employed by the Gaza administration must also be decided.
  4. In the next two weeks, Hamas will transfer into Egyptian hands control of the Rafah border crossing from the Gaza Strip to Egyptian Sinai.
  5. The Palestinian Authority will take charge of the Rafah crossing from Egyptian officials – not directly from Hamas.
  6. Up until the parties come to terms on Gaza Strip’s electricity bill – which the Palestinian Authority has refused to cover for months – Egypt and Israel will provide the enclave with fuel for running the grid.
  7. The main sticking point in the reconciliation process – control of Hamas’ armed wing and arsenal – appears to have been left out of the deal signed Thursday. Hamas has consistently objected to foregoing or sharing control of its militia. Non-Egyptian sources report that the Palestinian Authority is to deploy 30,000 members of its security battalions to the Gaza Strip, but make no mention of coordination between the two forces. Cairo does not refer to this question.

Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, has fought three wars with the Jewish state and its armed wing is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the European Union and other powers.

Israel has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that contains Hamas ministers.

Egypt caught off guard

August 29, 2017

Egypt caught off guard, Israel Hayom, Dr. Shaul Shay, August 29, 2017

(The decision and its timing raise “questions as to whether everyone in the U.S. administration is in fact on the same page.” Are they even reading the same book? — DM)

The timing of the decision, on the eve of a meeting between a delegation of senior U.S. officials and el-Sissi in Cairo aimed at promoting a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and just weeks ahead of a large-scale joint military exercise between U.S. and Egyptian forces, raises questions as to whether everyone in the U.S. administration is in fact on the same page. Trump even called el-Sissi shortly after the cuts to financial aid were reported in the media to assure him that he would work to bolster U.S. relations with Egypt.

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Egypt was caught off guard by the United States’ decision this week to freeze $300 million in financial and military aid to the country. The U.S. administration took these steps following reports that Egypt was not doing enough to improve human rights in the state.

Ever since signing the peace treaty with Israel in 1978, Egypt has benefited from $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid and $250 million in annual civilian financial support. Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration expressed its disapproval of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s removal from office in 2013 by freezing weapons deliveries to Egypt. Although they have improved following Abdel- Fattah el-Sissi’s election in 2014, bilateral ties between the countries remain chilly. The freeze on weapons deliveries has convinced el-Sissi that Egypt must consolidate a strategy for diversifying its weapons resources and increase security ties with Russia and France.

The regime in Egypt faces a difficult struggle against an array of radical Islamic organizations that threaten that country’s security and stability, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State proxies that operate in the Sinai Peninsula and neighboring Libya as well as smaller Islamic terrorist groups. To contend with Islamic radicalization and terrorism, the Egyptian regime has been forced to take a series of operational, administrative and legal steps, some of which are perceived in the U.S. and Europe as infringing on human rights. Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Egypt has been subject to a financial crisis and ongoing terror attacks that make it difficult for that country to rehabilitate its economy. This is especially true for its tourism industry and foreign investments in the country.

The U.S. administration’s decision was a double surprise for Egypt: For one thing, Egypt had believed that with the election of Donald Trump, someone who is less sensitive to issues of human rights and prioritizes the war on Islamic terror, ties between the countries would improve and the U.S. would be more empathetic to the Egyptian regime’s troubles at home. For another thing, news of the decision was relayed to the Egyptians mere hours before it was reported in the American media.

The timing of the decision, on the eve of a meeting between a delegation of senior U.S. officials and el-Sissi in Cairo aimed at promoting a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and just weeks ahead of a large-scale joint military exercise between U.S. and Egyptian forces, raises questions as to whether everyone in the U.S. administration is in fact on the same page. Trump even called el-Sissi shortly after the cuts to financial aid were reported in the media to assure him that he would work to bolster U.S. relations with Egypt.

In a chaotic Middle East, Egypt is a vital ally to the U.S. and its moderate Sunni allies. Maintaining the 1979 peace deal with Egypt and the security ties forged with it in recent years are a vital strategic interest for Israel. Israel must therefore work to find a solution to the issues under dispute between the U.S. and Egypt so that they do not harm the stability of the regime in Cairo and ensure Egypt remains a fundamental component in the moderate Sunni coalition in the Middle East in light of all the threats the region faces, which in large part stem from Iran and the Shiite axis following Islamic State’s defeat in Iraq and Syria.

Dr. Shaul Shay is a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

Sisi as key to Arab anti-ISIS pact with Israel

April 3, 2017

Sisi as key to Arab anti-ISIS pact with Israel, DEBKAfile, April 3, 2017

(Please see also, Restore the U.S.-Egyptian Strategic Alliance, Designate the Muslim Brothers as Terrorists. — DM)

Our Washington sources report that President Trump aims to complete his plan for bringing together Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel on a new footing by September.

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US President Donald Trump’s first face to face with Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi at the White House Monday, April 3, focuses on four main topics, DEBKAfile reports: The fight against Islamist State terror rampant in Egyptian Sinai and neighboring Libya; topping up US military assistance to Cairo, aid for easing Egypt’s dire economic straits and, finally, the effort to bolster normal relations between the Arab world (including the Palestinians) and Israel.

From the moment he assumed the Egyptian presidency in June 2014, El-Sisi has waged a never-ending war on Islamist terror against Ansar Beit-al Maqdis, which later pledged alliance to the Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The Egyptian army has so far been worsted.  The Egyptian president is not deaf to the criticism of the Second and Third Armies’ failure to overcome a few thousand armed men, even though they can at a moment’s notice raise several thousand more fighters from the Bedouin tribes of Sinai. US intelligence has rated the Egyptian forces as slow-moving and unwieldy; but for limited forays, its contingents preferring to sit safely in their barracks rather than risk going out and pursuing the enemy across the Peninsula.

Shortly before President El-Sisi’s trip to Washington, the Egyptian air force conducted intense bombardments of ISIS concentrations around the northern town of El Arish, killing at least 14 terrorists, nabbing 22 and seizing large caches of roadside bombs. But they too long delayed bearding the Islamists in their main stronghold atop Mount Jabal Hala in central Sinai. ISIS is therefore free to move around the territory and strike at will, the while expanding its operations into Egypt proper.

The weekend air strikes came after months in which ISIS overran sections of El Arish, Sinai’s biggest town (pop: 100,000). Their grip is such that Egyptian forces no longer dared venture into those lawless neighborhoods, especially at night. Earlier this year, terrible persecution including executions forced the few thousand indigenous Christians, most of them Copts, to flee their homes in El Arish. Egyptian forces proved unequal to safeguarding the US-led international observer force (MFO) monitoring the 1972 Egyptian-Israel peace treaty at a nearby station.

American military aid to Egypt stands today at $1.3bn a year. Even though the US president means to slash foreign aid programs, he may make an exception in this case and expand military assistance -, possibly in the coin of advanced military hardware, given the country’s unending frontline battle against Islamist terror.

Its presence in El Arish, 130km from the Egyptian-Israeli border, plants the peril on the doorsteps of Egypt’s neighbors as well: Northern Sinai borders on Israel, its northwestern district shares a border with the Gaza Strip, abutting in the east on Jordan and in the southwest on Libya. The cities of western Sinai sit on the banks of the Suez Canal.

The Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate is closely allied with Salafi organizations in the Gaza Strip and works hand in glove with its Palestinian Hamas rulers, especially in the lucrative arms-smuggling business.

Al-Baghdadi last year posted a group of Iraqi officers in his service to the Sinai contingent. They travelled through southern Jordan to reach the peninsula. The Islamist cells in Libya have moreover made ISIS-held turf in Sinai their safe highway for traveling undetected to their other strongholds across the Middle East.

To stamp out this sprawling, multi-branched menace, the Trump administration needs to bring Egypt, Jordan and Israel into a coalition for a sustained, common campaign.

The Obama administration, which boycotted President El-Sisi for persecuting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, tried unsuccessfully to build Turkey, Egypt and Israel into a counterterrorism pact. The Trump administration, for which the Brotherhood is anathema, has a better chance. But first, relations between the Arab world and Israel need to be placed on a regular footing. Some groundwork already exists in the informal bilateral military ties Egypt and Jordan maintain with Israel. DEBKAfile’s military sources have revealed in past reports the limited give-and-take relations for fighting terror Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi maintain with Israel.

The US President’s advisers recognize that before a broad, effective front against ISIS and Al Qaeda can be put together from these partial, often covert ties, progress is necessary towards normalizing relations between the Arab governments and the Jewish state, including the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Trump will certainly want to hear what role his Egyptian guest is willing to take for bringing this process forward. He will ask his next Middle East visitor, Jordan’s Abdullah II, the same question, when he arrives in Washington Tuesday. As for the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, he was promised an invitation to the White House this month, but not yet been given a date. He is clearly being left to wait until the senior players in the region have had their say. Our Washington sources report that President Trump aims to complete his plan for bringing together Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel on a new footing by September.

Trump and Sisi discuss Middle East peace

December 23, 2016

Trump and Sisi discuss Middle East peace, Israel National News, Elad Benari, December 23, 2016

trumpandsisiTrump and Sisi meet in New YorkReuters

“The presidents agreed on the importance of affording the new U.S. administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case with a view of achieving a full and final settlement,” he added.

Sisi recently praised Trump and said he expected greater engagement in the Middle East from his administration.

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday night spoke with U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, Sisi’s office said, according to Reuters.

The call came hours after the UN Security Council postponed indefinitely a vote on Egypt’s draft resolution denouncing Israeli “settlements”.

“During the call they discussed regional affairs and developments in the Middle East and in that context the draft resolution in front of the Security Council on Israeli settlement,” said Sisi’s spokesman, Alaa Yousef.

“The presidents agreed on the importance of affording the new U.S. administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case with a view of achieving a full and final settlement,” he added.

Thursday’s vote on the UN Security Council resolution was reportedly postponed after Sisi instructed his nation’s delegation to push for a delay in the vote.

Trump had earlier called for the United States to veto the resolution, as it has traditionally done with similar proposals. American officials indicated that the Obama administration was planning to abstain from voting or even to vote yes.

Sisi recently praised Trump and said he expected greater engagement in the Middle East from his administration.

The Egyptian President has also been at the forefront of the effort to resume talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, having several months ago urged Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to seize what he said was a “real opportunity” for peace and hailed his own country’s peace deal with Israel.

The comments were welcomed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stressed that “Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region.”

Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman welcomed Sisi’s call as well, saying he welcomed the Egyptian president’s efforts to achieve peace and establish a Palestinian state.

Stunning: Egyptian Foreign Minister says Israel’s treatment of Palestinians not ‘terrorism’

August 24, 2016

Stunning: Egyptian Foreign Minister says Israel’s treatment of Palestinians not ‘terrorism’, American ThinkerThomas Lifson,, August 24, 2016

It is an article of faith in the Arab world that Israel is guilty, guilty, guilty of terrorizing the poor Palestinians, which is why Jews deserve to be terrorized worldwide.  The origins of violence lie exclusively on the Jews, too.  So Arabs and all Muslims have a duty to defend their brothers and sisters by acts of extreme cruelty against Israelis in particular, and Jews in general.

This dogma is extremely important because it avoids any scrutiny of Koranic and other scriptural incitements of violence – even genocide – against Jews. I thus serves a dual purpose. And as a result, it must remain unquestioned.  And for decades, there has been rhetorical solidarity on this point.

Until now.

The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its replacement by the anti-MB regime of General Sisi, along with the spread of chaos in the Arab world has changed matters. Meanwhile, Israel is quietly building itself into a tiny superpower, its high tech economy and rapid development of offshore gas and onshore fracking making it a global economic power, able to finance a high tech military.

As a result, a stunning break with the past happened, beyond the notice of our mainstream media. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Sunday that Israel’s actions against Palestinians does not constitute terrorism, eliciting an angry response from a Hamas spokesman who said Egypt’s top diplomat is blind.

Shoukry’s comments came during a Q&A session with students held at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, where he was asked why Palestinians children killed in the conflict with Israel were not considered victims of terrorism.

“When looking at this issue, it can be defined as a ‘regime of force,’” the Egyptian media quoted Shoukry as saying. He said there was no evidence to link Israel to terrorist organizations.

“There is nothing that leads to this conclusion,” he said.

Shoukry added that Israel’s history has made it very sensitive to security issues, and as a result tightens control over its territory and border crossings to ensure its security.

The reaction has not been favorable among other Arab regimes. In public, at least. Speaking from Qatar, a major Clinton Foundation donor (and recipient of questionable favors):

Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesperson in Qatar, slammed the Egyptian foreign minister in a Twitter post, saying, “He who does not see the crimes of the Zionist occupation as terrorism is blind.”

The Egyptian cozying up with Israel is far ahead of public opinion there. It is inconceivable to me that Shoukry made these comments without first discussing them with Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s primary financial backer.

Tectonic plates are shifting in the Arab world, with some pragmatic leaders realizing that the primary problems of Arabs are created by themselves, and Israel has much more to offer as a friend than as a mortal enemy.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman

 

ISIS Attacks Northern Sinai, 15 Egyptian Police Dead

June 5, 2016

ISIS Attacks Northern Sinai, 15 Egyptian Police Dead, The Jewish PressHana Levi Julian, June 5, 2016

Egyptian security forces stand by their Armoured Personell Carriers ahead of a military operation in the northern Sinai peninsula on August 08, 2012. Egypt, which launched air raids against Islamist militants in Sinai for the first time in decades, faces a tough enemy that has used the peninsula's rugged terrain to evade capture in the past. The military said it deployed Apache helicopter gunships in the strikes that killed 20 "terrorists" in the Sinai village of Tumah, in retaliation for a weekend ambush that cost the lives of 16 soldiers. AFP PHOTO/STRINGERSTRINGER/AFP/GettyImagesEgyptian security forces stand by their Armored Personnel Carriers ahead of a military operation in the northern Sinai peninsula.

Da’esh (ISIS) operatives from the local Sinai Province terrorist group carried out a massive attack Friday in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

At least 15 Egyptian police officers were killed in one of the terror attacks on a checkpoint in El Arish.

Terrorists attacked the checkpoint using a car bomb and followed up with mortar fire against government troops at the site, according to a translation of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper report, cited by Egypt Independent.

The Sinai Province group officially claimed responsibility for the attack a few hours later.

Also on Friday the Masa’ed Sheikh Zuwayed power line in northern Sinai came under attack by terrorists. The attack led to power blackouts in Sheikh Zuwayed and in Rafah, located on Egypt’s border with Gaza.

Such incidents are common, according to the Electricity Ministry, which said security forces provide protection for technicians tasked with repairing the lines. The forces are also tasked with hunting for the terrorists responsible for the attacks that cause the blackouts.

Egypt and Israel have been quietly working together to fight against the attempt by Da’esh to increase its forces in the area.

The Islamist terror group has also forged a bond with Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization, further complicating the already complex security situation along Israel’s southern border.

Since the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iranian proxy Hezbollah terror group both also have operatives moving in and out of Sinai and Gaza, one wonders how long it will take before Da’esh and Iran sit down to discuss an alliance, with the Muslim Brotherhood (which gave birth to Hamas) as the broker.

Sisi and Mideast Peace

May 21, 2016

Sisi and Mideast Peace, American ThinkerC. Hart, May 21, 2016

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s speech on Tuesday, May 18, set ripples through Israel’s political establishment. Speaking in the southern city of Assiut, Sisi signaled to the Arab world, the Palestinians, and Israel that it is time for an historic breakthrough in peace negotiations.

Responding immediately to Sisi’s comments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he is open to working with Egypt and Arab states towards advancing the peace process, not only with the Palestinians but with the peoples of the Middle East region.

Netanyahu’s comments come on the heels of a visit to Israel by French Foreign Minister Jean-Mark Ayrault. The two men met but disagreed on how to advance peace.

France insists on hosting an international parley to force Israel and the Palestinians to come to the peace table. Israel is against the French initiative.

Netanyahu would like to go beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and work directly with moderate Arab states on a comprehensive peace deal. Sisi could be instrumental in building an Arab coalition for peace which would dismiss or weaken the divisive French initiative, releasing Israel from conceding to European demands.

Former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, is currently working as a Research Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). He is a Middle East expert who has represented Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as former Ambassador to Sweden and Romania, as well. This writer asked Mazel if Sisi’s comments were spontaneous or were released at this time for political reasons because he wants to strengthen Egypt’s position in the region by helping Israel.

“I don’t think there is a big design… I think that Sisi understands what is going on in the Middle East and he is identifying according to his view — a kind of possibility of advancing the peace process.”

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, and Israel have common enemies: Iran and Islamic State. Already there have been discreet diplomatic and business ties between Israel and these nations

According to Mazel, Sisi is also emerging as a strong respected leader among Egyptians despite the Western media’s portrayal of him as a dictator similar to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“Sisi sees himself as a president quite stable among his people. I know that this is not the way they think in the Western media — New York Times and company. They see him as a kind of military dictator; absolutely not! He’s a good man. He’s not Mubarak. He’s Sisi.”

Mazel explains that Egypt is on the way to economic sustainable development. This is what Sisi has been focused on over the past two years and he is seeing success. Unemployment has gone down, despite the fact that almost 90 million people live in Egypt and the country is poor.

“He has started something quite positive, and Sisi thinks that the time has come for Egypt to be in the international arena.”

What that means, according to Mazel, is that Egypt’s current role is still minor. Sisi is asking Israelis and Palestinians to go forward, yet he, himself, does not have a plan. But, in the future, Egypt could emerge as a larger player in the region.

Mazel is pragmatic about the short-term. “It’s a positive step for Egypt, but it is not going to change the world.”

Current peace advances that are being prepared for release are not a positive development for Israel: (a) the French Initiative; (b) a document showing the obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts soon to be reported by the Quartet; (c) the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that, despite being outdated, is still considered a serious option by the Arab world.

In the coming days, the Arab League plans to meet and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mazel thinks that Sisi’s statement was good timing for that meeting, but otherwise, was not connected to a bigger scheme.

However, on Wednesday, May 18, American Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Egypt one day after Sisi gave his emotional speech. Some analysts believe that the U.S. is behind Sisi’s bold words, in an effort to circumvent the French from becoming a new power broker in the Middle East.

The question is whether Sisi’s encouragement will lead to Israel courting the Arab nations and the Arab nations courting Israel, while by-passing the Palestinians. Mazel thinks that kind of change is slow in coming, because the Arabs continue to entrench themselves in old positions that favor Palestinian demands.

Refusing to sit down and negotiate with Israel, the Palestinians have insisted on preconditions which the Arab League has accepted. They demand that Israel agree on the right of return for so-called Palestinian “refugees” to Israeli land; that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders; and, that Israel stop building in West Bank settlements (Judea and Samaria). Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also expects Israel to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, who have blood on their hands, serving time in Israeli jails because of terrorist attacks against the Israeli population.

So far, these unresolved issues have kept Abbas away from face-to-face negotiations with Netanyahu. However, his real diplomatic scheme is to get the international community to affirm the Palestinian position and force Israel to concede to Palestinian demands. Right now, Abbas sees the best venue to accomplish his goal as a French-sponsored future peace conference, followed by a stinging UN anti-Israel resolution.

Meanwhile, the future pressure on Israel will be to immediately stop settlement construction in order to get the peace process going. Mazel declares, “Absolutely not… we have to go on! Half a million people live there. And, they are the shield of Israel. We continue to build until there is peace.”

Mazel has a real problem with the demands of the Arab League, as well. “The Arab Peace Initiative is more or less the same as the Palestinian attitude. The ‘right of return’ is still there. It should be taken completely out. Most importantly, the Palestinians and the Arabs should recognize a Jewish State in Israel.”

Mazel is also not sure that Netanyahu’s insistence on widening his government, to provide greater stability, is a wise idea. Reportedly, Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman will soon become Israel’s new Defense Minister as Netanyahu brings several more ministers into his coalition. Mazel thinks this will not provide a wider diplomatic envelope; nor, will it help change European or Arab attitudes towards Israel; nor will it end the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Then there is U.S. President Barack Obama’s failed Middle East policy, which includes his lackluster support of American allies in the region. Mazel says this policy cannot continue.

“It cannot be like that, because America is the most important power in the world… And, whoever will win the presidency, whether it will be Mrs. Clinton or Trump, both of them are in a certain way connected to the Middle East.”

Mazel believes that with 22 countries and more than 300 million people living in the region, the next U.S. president will be more engaged in leading the nations into greater stability.

In the meantime, currently 80% of the Egyptian people support Egyptian President Sisi. His nation has already made peace with Israel (along with Jordan). Helping Israel to extend an olive branch to other Arab countries will encourage Egypt to take up an important leadership role in a region that continues to be embroiled in major upheaval and violence.