Egypt has canceled a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Cairo, Arab media reported Sunday.
The announcement comes after Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said earlier this month that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the flooding of several Hamas tunnels linking Egypt to the Gaza Strip, to a certain extent, "due to Israel's request."
The minister affirmed that security cooperation between Israel and Egypt is "better than ever," and asserted that "flooding is a good solution" for the challenge of tackling Hamas' intricate tunnel system used for smuggling purposes.
The security establishment was furious with the Energy Minister
at the time when he made the comments, concerned with Egypt's reaction to the public revelations. Their fears were confirmed after Egyptian media reported that the Sisi government took exception to the statements.
Defense and security cooperation is one of the most sensitive issues concerning both countries, and Egypt is extremely reluctant to disclose publicly their relationship with Israel out of concern that opposition forces will stoke populist anger by painting Sisi as a “collaborator” with Israel.
Security cooperation with Israel is highly unpopular among the Egyptian public.
Sisi, however, needs little prodding from Israel to destroy the Hamas tunnels linking Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula, viewing the Gaza-based terrorist organization as a dangerous security threat.
In the eyes of the Egyptian government, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, poses a threat to national security in much the same manner as the latter.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed and its leadership thrown in prison since Sisi came into power in 2014.
Furthermore, the Egyptian government routinely accuses Hamas of being in communication with terrorist elements in the Sinai, including Islamic State’s affiliate in the peninsula.
Yossi Melman contributed to this report.