The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, is currently in Israel, to participate in the historic Negev Summit, which is mainly focused on deterring the many Iran-made security threats all over the Middle East region. Among all the major shifts in the regional geopolitical structure, which this particular summit highlights, the fact that Egypt is now actively involved in regional action against Iran, stands out. It is important to figure out what incited this crucial change in Egypt’s lenient policy towards Iran.
On March 27th-28th, in Sde Boker, Negev, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Yaer Lapid, hosted his counterparts from Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in a historic summit to discuss the future of the Middle East in light of the escalating regional and global threats. The United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, participated in the summit, as well, carrying a message from the White House confirming that the United States will always work with its strategic partners, in the Middle East, to push away the nuclear threat of Iran.
Despite the decades-long frozen diplomatic relations with Iran, Egypt has always been careful not to stir up Iran’s hostility. That included when showing solidarity, mostly via the Arab League’s collective statements, with Saudi Arabia and UAE, against the attacks of the Iran-sponsored Houthi militia. Ironically, in the war between Hezbollah and Israel, in 2006, the Egyptian media showed an exaggerated bias to Hezbollah against Israel, when covering the news of the war. Most of them went as far as portraying Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, as a popular regional hero.
However, since the Egypt President El-Sisi came in power, in 2014, the relationship between Egypt and Israel has been expanding to unprecedented levels of security and economic partnership. When Hamas-affiliated terrorists stormed into Sinai, killing Egyptian soldiers and civilians, in the chaotic years following the Arab Spring, Israel provided unprecedented security and military support for Egypt to defend itself against the terrorists.
Moreover, in the past three years, the two eastern Mediterranean neighbors have grown together as key players in the world energy market, due to their fruitful cooperation in extracting and liquifying the natural gas wealth of the eastern Mediterranean, within their maritime zones. This created a new bond of healthy economic and security codependency between neighbors, which is now making Egypt care for preserving the national security of Israel as much as it cares for its own national security.
In parallel, the Abraham Accords helped Israel in building deeper connections with Gulf countries, especially the UAE, which is heavily invested in Egypt’s economy and security, too. The main security threat on Egypt’s top two allies in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and UAE, is coming from Iran and its sponsored Houthi militia in Yemen. One of the staple mottos of the Egyptian president, El-Sisi, is that “the security of the Arab Gulf is integral to the security of Egypt.” Undeniably, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been very supportive to Egypt, over the past decade, especially in terms with ensuring Egypt’s economic stability, which is critical of preserving Egypt’s political stability and security.
Above all that, after the hasty withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, in August last year, there is a growing desire in the Middle East region, on both official and social levels, that the region should be led by its own leaders, not by whoever rules the White House. For this to happen, cooperation between all parties, including Israel, has become inevitable, especially that the internal or the external threats facing the region does not differentiate between the Arab or the non-Arab.
In that sense, it is not a surprise that Egypt, right now, is taking a sharper position in siding with Israel and the Arab Gulf countries against Iran, this time. By actively participating in the Negev summit, and previously hosting senior Israeli officials, either from the political, security, or intelligence bureaus, is definitely “giving Iran something to fear,” as Israel’s Foreign Minister boldly articulated.
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