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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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Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 7, 2023. Photo: Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.

Iran‘s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.

Iran‘s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards – an elite force that oversees Iran‘s ballistic missile program – declined to comment. Russia‘s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.

An Iranian military official – who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information – said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.

Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.

“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”

U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran‘s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran‘s ballistic missile programme amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.

A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.

By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.

“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal”.


A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.

Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.

“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Centre for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.

Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometres and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.

“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.

“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defences to intercept,” Lee said.


Iran‘s hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.

Defence cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia‘s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran‘s drones, missiles and air defence systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.

And last month, Russia‘s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.

“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran‘s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”

The stakes are high for Iran‘s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.

While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies – including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen – have attacked Israeli and US targets.

A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.

He said Western nations were concerned that Russia‘s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.

Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.

“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.

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Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group

Signage for the U.S. Department of Education – Federal Student Aid Office at 830 First Street NE Washington, D.C., USA, on November 28, 2023. Photo: Gen Namer via REUTERS CONNECT

Middlebury College on Tuesday issued, as well as deleted, statements which indirectly responded to allegations of institutional antisemitism that a civil rights group lodged against its administration last week.

As The Algemeiner previously reported, StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that high level officials at the school fostered a “pervasively hostile climate” for Jewish students by refusing, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering.

Middlebury responded to the charges on Tuesday, explaining the college’s “Educational Approach to the War in Gaza and Israel,” in two statements, the first of which was later deleted and replaced with a revision containing numerous “stealth” edits.

The first defended chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan widely considered as a call for a genocide of Jews in Israel, as utterance protected by its free speech policy.

“We are fully aware that, while this phrase is divisive, it is experienced and interpreted differently by different groups,” the school said. “Middlebury has extensive structures in place for mitigating ham that controversial speech can cause, and our open expression policy safeguards a learning environment ‘where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.’”

According to the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, Middlebury’s response did not directly address its handling of a vigil that Jewish students organized on Oct. 9 to mourn the victims of Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which happened two days prior. In its complaint, SWU alleged that Middlebury roadblocked the event, denying Jewish students police protection and demanding that they omit direct references to Jewish suffering in their remarks and promotional materials. In an email to the Jewish group that planned the vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

Additionally, no high level administrators agreed to speak at the vigil and condemn antisemitic violence, as well as terrorism. However, a month later, the administration accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI) official, a request, StandWithUs insists, which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

In Tuesday’s deleted statement, Middlebury claimed that president Laurie Patton provided the Jewish students “remarks that were read at the vigil, condemning Hamas and pledging support and care for students.” Not true, StandWithUs, explained. Patton’s statements, like Middlebury’s previous statements about Oct. 7, mentioned only “violence we have seen in Israel and Gaza,” a description of the conflict at which SWU takes umbrage for its equating Hamas’ atrocities with Israel’s self-defense.

StandWithUs said in a press release on Wednesday that Middlebury’s statement is “mendacious,” noting that members of the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury are all hired faculty and staff, some of whom are accused of antisemitism in its complaint. SWU also charged that Middlebury’s claim to collaborate with a local Chabad organization is misleading as well, noting that “for over six years” the school has denied the group’s entreaties for formal recognition, a designation that would qualify it for funding and the privilege to reserve space on campus for events and other activities.

“It is no wonder that by the morning of February 20, 2024, Middlebury took its statement down from its website entirely and replaced it with an even more misleading post,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said. “Middlebury can no longer hide from its legal and moral duty to provide a campus environment for its Jewish students free from discrimination and harassment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel

How a campus initiative was revived following Oct. 7.

The post Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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