Egypt’s President Likes Incumbent Israeli PM, Street Wants Change
Progressives view Netanyahu’s ties to conservative Arab leaders as an alliance between “forces of expansion” in Israel and “Arab fascist camp”
CAIRO – Officials here are hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can leverage his party’s first-place election finish to secure a parliamentary majority and continue as one of the Egyptian regime’s essential partners in the region.
“Remember that Egypt entered the Camp David Accords with a right-wing Israeli government,” said Mustafa Kamal, a researcher for the quasi-governmental Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “And only the events of the Arab Spring overshadowed the Egyptian-Israeli cooperation at the security level.”
The Netanyahu government asked Washington not to cut aid to the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after the June 2013 revolution that ousted Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi.
That milestone was characterized by officials of the US Obama administration as a “coup-like event,” much to the chagrin of a stability-focused Egyptian leadership.
El Sisi credits Netanyahu for successfully lobbying the Obama administration to lift its hold on the supply of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles and Abrams tanks by 2015.
“Egypt and Israel continued to deepen their coordination to curb terrorist operations in Sinai, which served as the first test for el-Sisi,” Kamal told The Media Line. “More recently, the Egyptian administration was able to solve the issue of compensation for the lost supply of natural gas to Israel during the height of the Sinai terror campaign. And this year, we brought Israel into the East Mediterranean Gas Forum agreement.”
Last month, natural gas started flowing to Egypt from Israel’s Leviathan offshore gas field, a vital part of an effort coordinated with Washington to help it become a regional energy hub.
“In some ways, Netanyahu opened the door between the Egyptian regime and the current American administration,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “The Egyptians believe they will benefit, at least economically from Trump’s ‘deal of the century.’”
“Cairo is more comfortable dealing with Netanyahu, whom they have known for years, unlike Benny Gantz, who has no political experience and doesn’t know what to do with Gaza, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world,” Abusada, said.
A company affiliated with the Egyptian security apparatus has a substantial stake in the pipeline operator, with the remaining half ownership divided between Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Drilling company.
“I have been following Netanyahu for years, and despite some reservations, I have to say he was able to establish strong and real relations between the Arabs and Israel,” said Sara Sherif, Israeli affairs editor at the Cairo daily Al-Dustour.
“We have to acknowledge that the Joint List achieved success by obtaining 15 seats, but I doubt they will be able to prevent the formation of a new Netanyahu government and anyway they do not play a role in the conduct of relations between Israel and the Arab states,” Sherif told the Media Line.
While ruling circles in Egypt have accommodated themselves to Netanyahu, widespread discontent with the extent of concessions expected from the Palestinians under the Trump vision stirs grumblings from students and intellectuals.
“Generally Arabs say that the Israeli agenda is the same no matter who is their prime minister,” said Hassan Khalifa, a 22-year-old undergraduate student of Semitic languages at Cairo University.
“But I think if Gantz were to lead their government, he would be less likely to take Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and the Palestinian lands on the Jordan River,” Khalifa told The Media Line.
Alexandria resident Amin El-Mahdy is one of the few progressive Egyptian political commentators who has been published in Hebrew. A participant in the long-suspended people-to-people initiatives of the early 1980s, El-Mahdy views bitterly a relationship reduced to energy deals between elites and mutual arrangements solely focused on identifying terror suspects.
“Netanyahu achieved great regional gains for Israel but that success was based on collaboration with fascist, collapsing Arab regimes hostile to their people, to the Israeli people, and to Jews, as well,” El-Mahdy told The Media Line.
“Netanyahu is aligned with Arab criminal rulers who are foes of democracy and enemies of peace between peoples. It’s an alliance between the forces of expansion and settlement in Israel and the Arab fascist camp,”El-Mahdy said.
“The traditional Left in Israel collapsed long ago. But the concept of the Left itself has changed and it is inspiring to see Israeli Jews support the [majority-Arab] Joint List and show brave hearts and minds to reach the most important elements of peace and cooperation.”
“Netanyahu’s affinity for Arab criminal rulers continues to harm the true supporters of peace in Egypt and the wider Arab world. Progressives on both sides need to imagine how to counter the alliance between the forces of expansion and settlement in Israel and the Arab fascist camp,” El-Mahdy concluded.