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Opinion: Egypt and Israel an Important Alliance for the US

Image: Opinion: Egypt and Israel an Important Alliance for the US
In this handout photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Hazem Khairat, Egypt's ambassador to Israel, as they meet at the Knesset, Israel's parliament on February 29, 2016, in Jerusalem, Israel. (Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 26 Jun 2017 10:04 AM

When President Trump embarked on his first international trip, Middle East watchers sought signals of progress on the Trump administration’s top two regional priorities: reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and tackling Islamic radicalism in the name of increased American security. As the United States continues to seek ways to make good on those priorities, an obvious diplomatic partner emerges in the Republic of Egypt, whose relationship with Israel has been flourishing, and whose security and defense cooperation is increasingly positive for America and the West.

Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognize Israel in 1979, and despite many internal and external challenges, the relationship between the two countries has matured significantly in recent years. Driven together by common threats along their shared borders, the two countries have been quietly increasing their cooperation: sharing the common goal of defeating ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, jointly destroying tunnels that feed weapons into Gaza, and even allowing access to each other’s territories beyond those required by the Camp David peace accords. While direct domestic security concerns may drive some of this reality, there is a broader geostrategic picture — one that is highly relevant for the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Plainly stated, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has made it his top priority to defeat extremism in Egypt and increase safety and security in the region, relying on Israel as a strategic partner. El-Sisi started by targeting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Egypt’s capital city of Cairo has historically been viewed as the base of the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus the birthplace of much of the region’s radical Islamic activity, including inspiring Hamas, inflaming Anwar Sadat, and motivating other radicals across the Islamic world. Fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and eradicating it from Egypt is not only essential for delivering increased safety for Egypt, but is an important step for freeing the whole Arab civilization from radical Islamic terror. During his visit to the region, President Trump clearly sought to bolster the emerging "moderate axis" of Arab countries seeking to work behind the scenes with Israel to counter common threats. Egypt is indispensable in any bid to rally efforts in the Middle East, and el-Sisi’s offer for his country to act as a broker between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could be useful at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to revive peace talks.

Another of El-Sisi’s moves was the clear decision to divorce himself from the relationship that Egypt had with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, under Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s administration. Born out of El-Sisi’s shared view with the United States that Hamas is a terrorist organization and a strategic threat to the region, the Egyptian president has begun placing significant pressure on it to take stronger security actions on border areas with Gaza and the Sinai. His actions have amounted to crack downs on underground tunnels, high level security meetings with Palestinian officials on border security and eventually, to cutting ties with Hamas altogether. While the future may necessitate that the Egyptian government work with Hamas and make concessions for the areas in question, ultimately the new Egyptian leader has clearly staked his warming with Israel over the Palestinians in security-related matters.

The United States-led Iran deal also created new divisions in the Middle East that present challenges to America’s security priorities, and Egypt’s positioning is important. For what appears to be the first time since the first Gulf War of 1991, Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have a common enemy and have pledged their support despite inconvenient historical and geopolitical tensions such as falling oil prices and the divisive Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, the three countries will look toward cooperative opportunities and ally in opposition to rapidly expanding Iranian influence. More broadly, Egypt is important because one in four Arabs is Egyptian and because it exerts a strong influence culturally, politically, and militarily throughout the region, providing a security umbrella to surrounding Arab nations who are rallying together against a common enemy.  Whether you look at United States policy for addressing the devastating civil war in Syria or the failed state of Libya, Egypt can play a uniquely impactful role in mediating between warring factions.

In my 25 years at the Israeli foreign ministry I seldom heard the Middle East described as lacking in complexity. But having had the privilege of working for Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and witnessing the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House, Egypt’s new strategic position does provide opportunities for the United States and Israel to leverage U.S. rapprochement with Saudi Arabia in order to advance key security and economic interests. As by far the most populous Arab nation, the host of an internationally strategic waterway, and a regime that is moving to get its house in order at home while actively reaching out to U.S. allies in its region, Sisi’s Egypt is one country that is making real changes of advantage to America, and which therefore merits deeper attention and engagement from the United States.

Ido Aharoni is a global distinguished professor of international relations at New York University and a veteran of Israel’s foreign service. He was Israel’s longest serving consul-general in New York (2010-2016).

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Plainly stated, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has made it his top priority to defeat extremism in Egypt and increase safety and security in the region, relying on Israel as a strategic partner.
egypt, israel, united states, alliance, terrorism, isis
Monday, 26 Jun 2017 10:04 AM
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