Egypt has condemned the IDF’s attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, calling for them to stop, though in truth it is probably content that Israel is hurting a group it blames for involvement in the Islamist insurgency on its own soil.
On Wednesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and agreed that all military action should stop, Ahram Online reported.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Israel to “contain the situation by ceasing all military operations, showing maximum self-restraint,” the ministry’s website stated on Wednesday.
In fact, Cairo is probably relieved that Israel is carrying out the operation so that it does not have to do so itself. A sign of Egypt’s hostility to Hamas, which states in its charter that it is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is that it continues to keep the Sinai-Gaza border closed despite Israel’s increasingly intense air campaign against the enclave.
The decision to keep the Rafah crossing closed is a political decision, not a military one, an unnamed official in the army’s spokesman’s office told Mada Masr on Wednesday.
“There is no danger on the border between Egypt and Gaza,” he said, adding that the army is aware of “what is happening to people in Gaza.”
In other words, Egypt is aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people in a war zone and the pummeling of Hamas by Israeli forces, yet chooses to do the Islamist movement no favors – boxing it in even as Israel intensifies its operations.
As the days go by, however, the public pressure builds on Egypt to act on the Palestinians’ behalf, and so belatedly on Thursday, it opened the border temporarily so that wounded Palestinians could cross and receive medical treatment in Egypt.
Since Sisi took control of the country after ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi last summer, he has embarked on intensive anti-terror operations and a harsh crackdown on revolutionary Islamist movements at home.
Egypt destroyed many of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza and allied itself with the conservative powers in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan – against radical revolutionary forces who wish to topple the established order.
Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs today and a contributor to this newspaper, told The Jerusalem Post that he thinks a channel of communication between Egypt and Hamas is open despite the hostility between them.
Although Egypt banned Hamas, “geography forces them to communicate on common issues such as the Rafah passage which opens rarely.”
The communication is handled by Egyptian intelligence as has been done in the past, he noted.
“Egypt is not in a hurry to see the conflict end even though it’s always dangerous to have an armed conflict on one’s border,” said Mazel, adding, “I don’t believe that the Egyptians shed tears when Hamas is being hit by Israel.”
Mazel explained that Sisi’s government, while condemning the IDF’s raids, has been careful not to be too critical of Israel.
Sisi has not made any public comments referring to Gaza, and the country’s media has also been quite restrained, he continued.
“In the coming days Egypt will probably feel itself forced to be more active to show its empathy for ‘their brethren in Palestine,’” Mazel added.
“There is considerable overlap of interests between the Sisi regime and Israel, although neither side likes to say so,” Shadi Hamid, author of the book Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East and a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told the Post.
“For starters, Israel backed Sisi’s ouster of Morsi, even though Morsi respected the peace treaty and didn’t actually do much to support Hamas,” said Hamid.
“But the issue here isn’t so much about policies, but about trust, and Israel was never going to trust a member of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he explained, adding that “Israel and Egypt now both see the Brotherhood and political Islam more generally as an existential threat.”
Both states share the goal of defeating the Sinai insurgency. “While elements of the Egyptian regime might sympathize with Israel’s offensive against Hamas, the developments of the past few weeks are only likely to strengthen Hamas’s position at home, giving it a newfound popularity as the voice of resistance, in contrast to [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas’s ‘collaboration,’” Hamid said.
Hence, many of those wishing for Hamas to be pummeled may be disappointed with the results, he said.