News Analysis: Israeli, Egyptian leaders' rare public meeting signals warming of relations: experts

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, September 14, 2021
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by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Monday, marking the first official visit to Egypt by an Israeli leader for a decade.

Since the normalization of ties in 1979, the Egypt-Israel relations have largely been security-based with extensive intelligence cooperation. Coined a "cold peace," the relations have not warmed at the level of the peoples.

According to statements released after the summit, the leaders discussed a wide range of issues. Also present at the meeting were Israel's military chief of staff, Egyptian foreign minister and the head of Egypt's intelligence service.

"The meeting was very important and very good ... we created a foundation for deep ties in the future. We discussed a series of issues in the diplomatic, security and economic spheres, as well as ways to deepen ties and strengthen the interests of our countries," said Bennett before boarding the plane back to Israel late on Monday.

Also discussed in the meeting was the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over a contentious plan to fill and operate a dam on one of the Nile river's tributaries, as well as the complex geo-political reality in the region.

"Both countries are worried about the withdrawal of the United States from the Middle East and what it means for their national security. They are very concerned of course about radical Islam ... and about the growing influence of Iran in the region," said Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

Bennett and Sisi met a year after Israel signed the Abraham Accords, a series of agreements that normalized its relations with four Arab countries. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign an agreement with Israel. Jordan and Israel normalized relations in 1994.

Inbar believes the Abraham accords and other regional changes may have pushed the two sides to hold the meeting, which brought the delicate relationship back to light. Just this week, Israeli media reported that direct flights between Cairo to Tel Aviv will be launched by the national Egyptian carrier Egypt Air next month.

"There is potential here that we mustn't miss. Because even just by slightly warming the so-called 'cold peace' with Egypt, there is a lot to gain. Egypt still has the status of a senior actor amongst all Arab nations," said Dikla Cohen from the Truman Institute and the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The meeting comes at a time when violent border demonstrations and sporadic firing of rockets towards Israel have led to increased tensions between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks.

Egypt often plays a mediating role between the two sides. After the last major round of violence in May, it has been reported that Egypt is aiming to achieve a long-term truce between the sides. Experts said taking the mediator position can help elevate Egypt's international status.

At the end of the meeting, both sides indicated that they intend to meet again and deepen the cooperation.

"There definitely is a feeling this time, that maybe, just maybe, something's changed, at least in the atmosphere," Cohen said. Enditem

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