News / Middle East

Egypt-Israel Ties Are Stronger Than They Appear

A Palestinian prints posters in preparation for a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, October 16, 2011.
A Palestinian prints posters in preparation for a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, October 16, 2011.
Elizabeth Arrott

Egypt's mediation of a deal swapping Palestinian prisoners for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is the interim military government's first successful foray into high-profile foreign affairs.

The move appears to counter predictions that Israel's ties with post-revolution Egypt would founder.  

The prisoner exchange deal represents a diplomatic coup for Egypt's military, and Israel has thanked its neighbor for "the central role" it played in bringing it about.  

The warm words are a stark change after the tensions of the past months, which included Israel's killing of five Egyptian border guards, a retaliatory riot and attack of Israel's embassy in Cairo, and the fleeing of the Israeli ambassador from the country.    

On top of these troubles, Israel has been alarmed by the rise of Islamists in Egypt since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February. During his time in power, Israel's long-time ally had suppressed Islamists, some of whom killed his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in part for signing a peace treaty with Israel.  

Enduring relations

But even with those concerns, Egyptian-Israeli relations may be less fragile than they appear.  

At a fundamentalist rally in downtown Cairo this week, the man who spent 30 years in prison for plotting Sadat's assassination argues that the peace treaty should be preserved.    

Aboud el Zomor said Egypt needs to remain committed to the deal to achieve stability. The recently released ringleader speaks now in lawyerly terms, saying "there are mechanisms within the treaty itself" that allow for modifications. He adds there is a platform for talks on such key issues as economic and social relations.  

Others in Cairo, including the nation's military rulers - the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF - share that pragmatism.   

Closing tunnels

Egyptian political analyst and publisher Hisham Kassem points to the SCAF's dealings with the illegal supply tunnels between Egypt and the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. The tunnels were an open secret in the Mubarak years, undermining Egypt's nominal promise to keep the borders to the blockaded territory, with its anti-Israeli militants, closed.    

"The policy now seems to be much more rational because SCAF has even acquired new equipment to destroy the tunnels and put an end to that, and started opening the border again in a sensible and regular way," said Kassem.

Kassem believes such "sensible" policies will continue, no matter who is elected to succeed Egypt's military government.  

"The next president is not really going to be the commander-in-chief. The commander-in-chief will be within the army, even unofficially, and the military knows the cost of war and the consequences of one. So if we were to get a government and a president who want to go to war, the military will not go along," said Kassem.

Maintaining peace

Kassem argues that, if nothing else, war would be too expensive - he cites a figure of $100 billion - and would cut Egypt off from Israel's western allies and their much-needed aid.  

Also, public support for conflict with Israel appears slim.

Despite frequently expressed anti-Israel sentiment, recent opinion surveys indicate some 75 percent of Egyptians want to keep the peace treaty with Israel intact. Most, it appears, favor the status quo in foreign affairs, and simply want to rebuild their own country after decades of authoritarian rule.    

American University in Cairo professor Said Sadek said there may be grudging respect for the Israeli government, which spent five years trying to get their soldier, Gilad Shalit, released.  

"The whole Arab Spring is about domestic issues, you know, turning subjects into citizens. People do not want to be treated like subjects.  They want to be treated like Shalit is being treated by his own government: [that] they care about them," said Sadek.

Sadek argues that Egyptians, too, want that kind of respect and concern from their leaders.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs