Within much of the Arab world, relations with Israel have always been a contentious subject due to a history full of wars and disputes. However, public opinion is gradually changing, particularly in Egypt. Since the Camp David Accords of 1978, which settled conflicts of land and sovereignty, Egypt and Israel have enjoyed peaceful relations. The growing friendship was demonstrated in July, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israel to offer his government’s assistance in restarting peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
The visit marked the first time an Egyptian foreign minister visited Israel since 2007. In light of existing and rising terrorist threats, the importance of Egypt and Israel’s relationship, particularly with common interests in stability and security, has heightened tremendously. If both countries wish to maintain proper relations and ensure future prosperity, they should continue to unite around common interests and goals rather than become regional rivals.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi signalled his desire for rapprochement by calling for a revival of peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities on the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Other states, such as France, have repeatedly attempted to broker a new peace agreement between Arab powers and Israel. Israel has persistently rejected the French proposals, and the U.S. does not seem keen to support it.
In spite of the gridlock, el-Sissi’s call may not sustain peace, but Egypt and Israel have other mutual interests beyond Palestine that are too valuable to dismiss. Both nations believe that failing to improve the Egyptian economy will lead to social unrest, and both emphasize security.
These nations share concerns about security and stability, which encouraged their rapprochement to combat the Islamic State group and Hamas through military and intelligence
cooperation. Egypt has been flooding underground tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, which has prevented the smuggling of weapons and insurgents. However, the IS group’s forces in the Sinai Peninsula have been perpetrating major attacks against Egypt, and Hamas has been accused of training IS group fighters and providing them with medical care.
Points of tension between Israel and Egypt must also be considered on the international stage. Israel’s support for the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia prompted El-Sissi’s strategic retaliation. The Renaissance Dam is an Ethiopian project that is largely funded by Israeli parties. This dam is of great concern to Egypt, because it will prevent a substantial amount of water from the Nile River from reaching Egypt.
Many Egyptians see Israel’s support for Ethiopia’s dam as a strategic attempt to diminish Egypt’s resources and gain geopolitical leverage. Some suggest that Egypt should employ military force, while others argue for more diplomatic negotiations. However, the situation is an example of how Egypt and Israel can cooperate successfully in certain areas, yet compete directly in others.
History has proven that, despite many disagreements, cooperation has always led to better outcomes in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rather than engaging in long-lasting wars and disputes, Egypt and Israel should cooperate. Such cooperation can lead not only to further political and economic stability, but also create a safer, more stable region for all. Leaders should be cognizant of the fact that the more interconnected and interdependent countries are, the less likely they are to be enemies.
Wasil Rezk is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Nile Scope appears every other Tuesday.