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It Is in Israel’s Interest to Uphold Egypt’s Role in Gaza

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Photo: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

JNS.orgAs could have been predicted well in advance, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in power in Egypt since the overthrow of Mohammed Mursi in July 2013—and elected in 2014 and again in 2018—met with no difficulty in his 2023 bid to secure a third term in office. He won 89.6% of the vote, against a number of nearly anonymous pseudo-candidates.

At least in theory, this should serve to re-establish the legitimacy of his rule, both at home and in the eyes of regional and international players. And yet, in early 2024 he faces a troubling combination of woes and challenges—above all on the economic front—that, over time, may amount to a threat to the social order and hence the regime’s stability.

The Egyptian economy has been plagued for more than a year by the consequences of a severe balance of payments problem, the collapse of the Egyptian pound—which has lost more than half its value against the U.S. dollar since the autumn of 2022—and a growing difficulty in abiding by the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, which has already led to a delay in the disbursement of the loan it was supposed to receive under the terms of a December 2022 agreement. As a result, Egypt’s credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s, and there are signs that investors, including some of Egypt’s wealthiest men, are shifting their activities to the more stable and comfortable environment of the Gulf monarchies.

One of the driving factors behind this crisis is the shortage of essential supplies and their rising prices—above all, due to the war in Ukraine, which until February 2022 was the main source of Egypt’s wheat imports. Over the years, the long-term damage inflicted upon Egyptian agriculture by the Aswan High Dam (which stops the fertile silt from being carried downstream by the river) has diminished crop yields: recently, as sugar cane crops dwindled, Egypt’s 155-year-old sugar factory in Minya was forced to close down.

Another factor is the steady increase in Egypt’s population, which has gone well past the one hundred million threshold in recent years—including, by some estimates, up to 9 million refugees, mainly from Sudan but also from war-torn Libya and Syria. The combined result is that Egypt has turned from a grain exporter into one of the world’s largest importers of wheat and cereals. This dependence is the main reason that the Egyptian national debt has doubled since 2016, despite reform efforts made by Sisi early on in his years in power, such as cutting fuel subsidies.

Recent events have dealt a further, double blow to Egypt’s sources of revenue. Before the war in Gaza broke out, the tourist industry—one of the pillars of the Egyptian economy and a vital source of foreign currency—was already showing signs of decline, enhanced by regional tensions and violence. The slow revival which followed the end of the COVID-19 crisis has once again been thrown into reverse. The second and more recent blow—although this was initially denied by the Suez Canal Authority—is the increasingly severe decline in income from passage through the canal due to the Yemen Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping. Many major shipping groups now prefer the much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, rather than risk sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the mouth of the Red Sea.

The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is another troubling issue casting a long shadow over Egypt’s economy—and in the eyes of some Egyptians, over the nation’s sheer survival (a somewhat exaggerated fear, since Ethiopia does not intend to stop the Blue Nile altogether). The repeated attempts to achieve a negotiated agreement over the rate at which the reservoir would be filled have failed, and after the collapse of meetings in Addis Ababa in December 2023, Egypt has reverted once again to thinly veiled threats warning that they will not tolerate a shortage of water for a nation of one hundred million people. In practice, however, Egypt’s military options are limited, not least because of the civil war currently raging in Sudan.

Egypt’s role in the Gaza war

At these difficult times, it is Egyptian involvement in Palestinian affairs—Sisi hosted Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for a tripartite summit with King Abdullah of Jordan on Jan. 10, 2024—specifically in Gaza, that lends Egypt additional weight, regionally and internationally. This is due to the direct and effective levers it has on Hamas “on the ground” (or rather under it) as well as its straightforward dialog with the Israeli leadership. Both efforts are led by the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel. Not for the first time, Egypt finds itself in fierce and practically open competition with Qatar, which hosts the Hamas leadership in Doha. Still, it has been the Egyptian efforts that have borne fruit so far with the hostage-prisoner swaps of November 2023.

Notably, Egypt avoids any semblance of formal legitimacy for Hamas operatives. While some of the movement’s leaders do reside in Cairo, Egypt does not grant them official status. This reflects Cairo’s continued commitment to the P.A. and Abbas as the sole representatives of the Palestinian people—another reason being Hamas’s affiliation with the hated Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi’s sworn enemies. In its 1988 covenant, Hamas explicitly defined itself openly as a branch of the Ikhwan—the Muslim Brotherhood—even if later, in their 2017 policy document, wary of Sisi’s hostility, they muted this aspect. As a result, it’s not the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs but rather Kamel’s organization that manages direct contacts with Hamas’s command structure in Gaza.

At the same time, Egypt’s control of the southern approaches to the Gaza Strip, and the crucial function of the Rafah Crossing, give Cairo unique leverage over Hamas. (There was widespread anger in Egypt over the false impression that the Israeli defense team in The Hague had accused Egypt of being responsible for the failure to arrange for the entry of humanitarian supplies to Gaza). Technical arrangements make it possible for Abbas Kamel to have direct—and occasionally blunt—conversations with Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, as well as to maintain at all times open channels with Israel.

All these aspects place Egypt in the lead: hence it was Cairo that put forward to both sides a plan for resolving the hostage situation that in its final phase would also lead to an end to the fighting (with Hamas surviving in Gaza). Israel at least gave it a hearing at the cabinet level; Palestinian Islamic Jihad and then Hamas rejected it out of hand. But Egypt’s efforts continue.

Egypt on Israel’s agenda

It continues to be in Israel’s interest for Sisi’s Egypt, rather than Qatar, to maintain the lead on the hostage situation, as both military pressure and indirect channels of communication are being used to generate progress once again. This preference should be shared with the Biden administration, which seems to be unduly beholden to the Qataris and at times insufficiently attentive to Egypt’s needs—and Egypt’s importance.

As Israel’s leadership has made all too clear, it will not accept an outline that means, in practice, an end to the fighting while Hamas retains its hold on power over at least parts of the Gaza Strip. There are reasons to believe that the Egyptians themselves, regardless of their formal position, share the understanding (as do others in the Arab world) that the future of the region may well depend on Israel’s ability to dismantle Hamas and take down a notch the muqawama (“resistance”) camp—led by Iran—and the myth of heroic achievements that has been built around it.

At the same time, Israel should invest consistent efforts at the highest level to sustain open channels of communication with Egypt, focusing on six key aspects:

Allaying fears that Israel intends to deport or induce masses of Gazans to migrate into Sinai. Due to repeated statements by senior members of Israel’s governing coalition, Cairo views this as a real threat, and the concerns expressed by Egypt are not a mere anti-Israeli propaganda ploy. Given the almost mystical attachment of Egyptians to “every grain of sand” of the country’s soil, this is a sensitive issue; it also raises the specter of renewed terror activity in northern Sinai, after years of bloody warfare against the “Sinai Province” of ISIL. An unambiguous Israeli commitment in this respect—even if it entailed political difficulties at home—would reassure Egypt and could provide legitimacy for its continued engagement with Israel on matters of importance to both countries—arguing that “this is what enabled us to prevent the deportations.”
Proceeding carefully and in close coordination with the Egyptian military as regards the achievement of full operational control of the so-called “Philadelphi Corridor.” Such control will ultimately serve the interests of Egypt as well, but the obvious sensitivity and the need to avoid friction requires further work to secure mutual understanding. Israel after all gave its consent again and again in the last decade to the deployment of significant Egyptian forces in Sinai, well above the levels allowed under the Military Annex of the 1979 Peace Treaty. It is thus entitled to a similar Egyptian recognition of the IDF’s operational needs.
Bringing Egypt into the inner circle of consultations on “the Day After” in Gaza, after the Americans but ahead of others—once Israel and the Biden administration engage in an orderly discussion of options and modalities, looking toward the future. In any strategic design chosen, Egypt is bound to play a role given its geographical position and its vital interests—although neither Egypt nor Israel are planning to rule Gaza directly by military force, as Egypt did from 1948 to 1967 and Israel did briefly in 1956 and again from 1967 to 2005.
Offering Egypt a vision whereby northern Sinai, which saw—as mentioned above—intensive warfare between the regime and ISIL, can become a vital logistical and economic hinterland for the reconstruction effort in Gaza, with significant benefits for all.
Building upon this option, and with a wider regional view, Israel should promote the economic and energetic integration of Northern Sinai, and of Egypt more generally, with other partners in the Eastern Mediterranean, including an improved port at al-Arish. Greece and Cyprus could join Israel and Egypt to create a new transport architecture that could also assist Gaza in “the Day After.”
Amid all this, Israel and its friends should systematically work to improve Egypt’s standing in the American (and allied) public domain, in Congress, and with key administration figures—seeking to underline the importance of Egypt’s role and the need to find solutions for its present difficulties, while neutralizing as much as possible the counter-pressures by “progressives” who remain focused on the iniquities of Sisi’s regime.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

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Jewish Comedian Michael Rapaport Announces Stand-Up Debut in Israel

Michael Rapaport. Photo: YouTube screenshot

Jewish-American actor and comedian Michael Rapaport announced that he will perform two full-length and live stand-up comedy shows in Israel for the first time ever in October.

He will be performing in Jerusalem on Oct. 13 at the Jerusalem Theatre and in Tel Aviv on Oct. 14 at the theater Beit HaHayal, he said in an Instagram post on Sunday. He added: “I’m so honored, I’m so excited & pray that all the hostages will be home by then & the country & people will be able to heal by October. Baruch Hashem.” Tickets are currently on sale for both shows.

Rapaport has been one of the most vocal supporters of Israel in Hollywood since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel. He has constantly advocated for the release of the hostages held captive by Hamas since Oct. 7 and joined hundreds of other entertainment industry figures in signing an open letter to US President Joe Biden calling for the immediate release of those still in captivity in Gaza.

Before Oct. 7, Rapaport had never visited Israel, but since the Hamas massacre, he has traveled to the Jewish state several times to visit families of hostages and speak at events for those who were abducted. He has also made guest appearances on the Israeli comedy satire show Eretz Nehederet. During one English-language skit on the show in late February, he pretended to host this year’s Academy Awards and commented on the hypocrisy of Hollywood stars for staying silent about the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

While speaking to The Jerusalem Post in May, Rapaport talked about his love for the people of Israel.

“They’ve been so used to being f—ked with: terrorism, intifadas, soldiers being killed, their fight to exist, and the need to explain their existence; it creates an incredible type of person. You don’t really understand it until you engage with them, and since Oct. 7, I’ve been so fortunate to engage with so many of them,” he said. “These two long trips I’ve been on [to Israel] have changed me as a Jew, as a New Yorker, and as a man. I can’t put my finger on it because it’s still happening right now. But one thing I know is that Israel will be a big part of my life going forward. I’m going to make up for lost time.”

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Anti-Israel Coalition at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Issues Threat to Jewish Community

Illustrative: Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

A coalition of anti-Zionist groups at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has issued an open threat to Jews who support Israel and Jewish organizations, promising to treat them as “extremist criminals.”

“We will no longer normalize genocidal extremists walking on our campus,” the group, which calls itself UWM Popular University for Palestine, posted on Instagram last week. “Any organization or entity that supports Israel is not welcome at UWM. This includes the local extremist groups such as Hillel, Jewish Federation, etc.”

Reiterating its first point, the group continued, “We refuse to normalize extremists and extremist groups walking around our campus. We are watching Israel’s legitimacy and international recognition fall to pieces on the world stage. Any organization that has not separated themselves from Israel will be treated accordingly as extremist criminals. Stay tuned.”

Photo: Screenshot

The statement has since been deleted, but it alarmed the local Jewish community, which interpreted the post as a declaration of violence to come.

“While we deeply believe in and support freedom of speech and freedom of expression, we believe this post could encourage harassment and violence towards Jewish students on campus as well as towards the staff of Hillel and the Jewish Federation,” said the Milwaukee Jewish Federation said in an email to the local community.

The federation said it alerted UWM police, Hillel leadership, and the FBI of the apparent threat.

The local district attorney, however, argued that UWM Popular University for Palestine’s comments are protected by the First Amendment, according to the federation.

“Our office is currently working with UWM Police to further investigate this matter,” Milwaukee County District Attorney Chief Deputy Kent Lovern told the Wisconsin Law Journal this week.

At the time of publication, the university is the only non-Jewish body that has appeared to denounce the anti-Israel group and condemn hate speech.

“UWM takes this post seriously and recognizes that the language in it, if acted upon, would undermine the safety of the UWM community, especially Jewish individuals and organizations,” the university said in a statement. “Where speech is not protected by the First Amendment, UWM will address it through appropriate processes, which could include student and student organization disciplinary processes. While hateful or intimidating speech is legally protected, it conflicts with the respect and conduct we ask of each member of our community.”

UWM also said it “strongly denounces these statements and denounces any form of antisemitism, and we will be actively monitoring campus as a result.”

However, the school’s responses to antisemitism on the campus have been mixed since the Palestinian terror group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, emboldening the radical anti-Zionist groups which operate there according to a paper by UWM political science professor Shale Horowitz.

Published earlier this month, the paper — titled, “The Campus War against Israel: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — argues that the administration was first to countenance violence and discrimination against Jews when it issued a statement about the Oct. 7 onslaught “without naming Hamas as the aggressor.” Until this week, Horowitz argued, he school had refused to address antisemitism as a stand-alone issue, denouncing both “antisemitism and Islamophobia” despite there having been little evidence of the latter and many instances of the former, including an incident in which an anti-Zionist mob descended on a Hillel event calling for “intifada” and a “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

Later, after anti-Zionists commandeered a section of campus, setting up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on the property, UWM chancellor Mark Mone praised protests against Israel as “history” unfolding “across the nation and the world.” Mone added, “I appreciate that the protests have remained peaceful and have not disrupted daily campus operations. And it is laudable that so many learning opportunities have been incorporated into life inside the encampment. This is a reflection of our campus community as a whole — and I salute the many instances of people coming together, discussing issues of the day, and welcoming the diverse people and opinions on our campus.”

Mone went on to endorse a litany of falsehoods about Israel in a statement announcing an agreement to end the encampment. Accepting the ideological premises of the anti-Zionist movement, he described Israel’s conduct in the war against Hamas as “genocide” and equated Hamas’ kidnapping women, children, and the elderly to Israel’s detaining of Palestinian terrorists, which Horowitz criticized for being a false equivalence and an implicit endorsement of terrorist violence.

“The systemic anti-Israel collusion of extremists and university bosses also has important implications for American Jews,” Horowitz concluded. “In Animal Farm, [George] Orwell explained where far-left ideologies lead. Some people and groups will inevitably be more equal than others, and those monopolizing power will decide which ones. For the far left, Jews are white Westerners, while Palestinian and other Muslims are non-white, non-Westerners, whose more radical segments are part of the anti-Western coalition.”

He added, “It doesn’t matter the the racial elements of this worldview are false and repugnant. The far left long ago classified as enemies Israel and Jews.”

Antisemitism in the US has surged to catastrophic and unprecedented levels, rising a harrowing 140 percent in 2023 — and exponentially so in the months after Oct. 7 — according to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual audit of hate incidents that targeted the Jewish community.

The ADL recorded 8,873 incidents last year — an average of 24 every day across the US, amounting to a year unlike any experienced by the American Jewish community since the organization began tracking such data on antisemitic outrages in 1979. Incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault all spiked by double and triple digits, with California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Massachusetts accounting for nearly half, or 48 percent, of all that occurred.

Breaking down the numbers, the ADL found a dramatic rise in the targeting of Jewish institutions such as synagogues, community centers, and schools, with 1,987 such incidents taking place in 2023 — a 237 percent increase which included over a thousand fake bomb threats, also known as “swattings.”

Other figures were equally staggering, with assaults and vandalism rising by 45 percent and 69 percent, respectively, while harassment soared by 184 percent. Antisemitic incidents on college campuses, which The Algemeiner has continued to cover extensively, rose 321 percent, disrupting the studies of Jewish students and leaving them uncertain about the fate of the American Jewish community.

“Antisemitism is nothing short of a national emergency, a five-alarm fire that is still raging across the country and in our local communities and campuses,” ADL chief executive officer Jonathan Greenblatt said in April. “Jewish Americans are being targeted for who they are at school, at work, on the street, in Jewish institutions, and even at home.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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US ‘Strongly Opposes’ China-Brokered Deal to Form Palestinian Unity Government With Terrorist Groups

Mahmoud al-Aloul, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of Palestinian organization and political party Fatah, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Mussa Abu Marzuk, senior member of the Palestinian terror movement Hamas, attend an event at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 23, 2024. Photo: Pedro Pardo/Pool via REUTERS

The US on Tuesday said it “strongly opposes” a Beijing-brokered declaration signed earlier in the day by the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah movement and the Hamas terror group, aimed at reconciling their longstanding divisions and establishing a unity government to manage Gaza after the war.

The declaration, which was also signed by more than a dozen other Palestinian factions, is seen as a symbolic win for China’s role as a global mediator, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi describing it as a “historic moment for the cause of Palestine’s liberation.” However, doubts linger about its effectiveness in addressing the years-long rift between the groups.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded to the announcement, saying Hamas had “blood on its hands, of Israelis and of Palestinians,” and could not be in any leadership role.

“When it comes to governance of Gaza at the end of the conflict, there can’t be a role for a terrorist organization,” Miller said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) — which currently exercises limited self-governance in the West and has long been riddled with allegations of corruption and authoritarianism — should be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza, Miller said, adding that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), unlike Hamas, had renounced terrorism.

The PLO is a coalition of Palestinian factions, including Fatah.

“If you look at the death and destruction that Hamas’ decision to launch the attacks of Oct. 7 has brought on Gaza, they have — there’s no one that has brought more pain and suffering to the people in Gaza than Hamas through their decisions — first to launch the attacks of Oct. 7, and then their ongoing decision, which continues today, to hide among civilian communities and use civilians as human shields.”

Miller also addressed China’s role in the mediation, saying that the US has generally encouraged China to leverage its influence with regional countries, especially those where the US has less sway, to prevent conflict escalation. One example was the Chinese-mediated deal last year restoring ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US also urged China to discourage both Iran from financing proxies attacking Israel and the Houthis from targeting commercial shipping. “We have asked China to use its influence to try to bring those attacks to an end, and we’ll continue to do that,” Miller said.

Tuvia Gering, a China and Middle East analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, said the move is part of China’s effort to rival the US by building alliances with developing nations as well as the Arab and Muslim world to prioritize its interests and stifle Western dominance.

China is “challenging America in every space possible as a new type of major power that takes in the considerations of the Global South and the coalitions of those oppressed by imperialism and Western hegemony” to create “a new global order,” he told The Algemeiner.

Gering condemned Beijing’s move, saying it “normalized terrorism” and will embolden the Palestinians into further intransigence in talks for any future peace accord.

“Until today, China failed to criticize [the Palestinians] and put all the onus onto Israel. This means effectively that the Palestinians will only adhere to the most maximalist positions in negotiations for the two state solution [which] will become even more of a distant reality,” Gering told The Algemeiner.

Gering also predicted that the “golden age” of China-Israel relations, which burgeoned over the last decade with the inking of major bilateral deals, was over because of China’s decision to “legitimize terror” since Oct. 7. Gering warned that moving forward, Israeli strategy in the region must also take China into account.

Gering expressed doubts that the declaration signed on Tuesday would lead to any major developments, noting “a large amount of skepticism” in the Arab world.

Indeed, the declaration gave no outline for how or when a new unity Palestinian government would be formed.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which was also a signatory on the declaration, issued a statement later in the day outlining its demand for all factions in any future unity government to reject recognition of Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz blasted the agreement, saying it underscored Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ embrace of “the murderers and rapists” of Hamas, which rules Gaza.

“In reality, this won’t happen because Hamas’ rule will be crushed, and Abbas will be watching Gaza from afar. Israel’s security will remain solely in Israel’s hands,” Katz said.

In his statement, Wang reiterated China’s commitment to a “comprehensive, lasting, and sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza and advocated for an “international peace conference” aimed at pursuing a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dina Lisnyansky, an expert in Middle East affairs and Islam, warned that while the deal may not come to fruition, China’s role is of growing concern for Israel. Egypt and Algeria — both mediators in failed past attempts at rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas — were far weaker than China as regional actors. “When China sets its sights on something it usually achieves its goals, so it should worry us greatly,” Lisnyansky told The Algemeiner.

Lisnyansky also said that Israel should sanction the PA for signing the declaration. “Israel should negate any entity that has any ties at all to Hamas, which needs to lose both its authority and legitimacy.”

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