The ill-advised declaration on February 6 by Infrastructure and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz that Egypt had flooded some of Hamas’s Gazan smuggling tunnels at Israel’s request brought attention to an important development: Israeli-Egyptian relations have over the last two years reached an unprecedented level of mutual understanding and cooperation, primarily on security issues.
To that end, Israel has allowed Egypt to introduce larger numbers of troops and heavy weapons into Sinai than allowed for in their peace treaty, and Egyptian F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters now operate against jihadi insurgents within sight of the Israeli border. The two countries are also like-minded regarding what they both view as the negative behavior of Hamas, the unwelcome efforts of Turkey to play a bigger regional role, and Iran’s power projection in the region.
Egypt’s approach to relations with Israel is two-pronged and contradictory. It is guided by a) strategic, political and economic interests and b) Egypt’s self-perception and view of “the other,” as understood by various domestic actors.
It is this latter category that places fundamental limitations on the relationship, in addition to the continuing differences over the unsolved Palestinian-Israeli issue.
First, the half or three-quarters full glass: The continued absence of war and extremely low likelihood of war for the foreseeable future.
Egyptian military, political and economic elites have long understood that war was not in Egypt’s interest, while peace opened the door to vital American, and other Western, aid and investment.
Following the gradual ascent to power of the Muslim Brotherhood following Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011, Israel’s worst fears – the return of a hostile Egypt ‒ seemed…