First official trip by an Israeli head of government to Egypt in ten years

For the first time since 2010, an Israeli prime minister was officially received on Egyptian soil on Monday, September 13. Naftali Bennett, who took over as head of government in June, was greeted by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Sharm El-Sheikh, a seaside resort in need of tourists on the Sinai Peninsula. The meeting was announced, but its precise date remained secret. There was no question that the jihadists of the Islamic State organization would take the opportunity to recall their presence in this region, where Israel is supporting the Egyptian army.

For the rest, Cairo gave this visit an air of normality, even warmth, displaying the Israeli flag behind Mr. Bennett. Before him, Benjamin Netanyahu, in power since 2009, had met Mr. Sissi, but it was on the sidelines of the United Nations annual general assembly, in New York, and during discreet trips to Egypt, reported by the press Israeli but never mentioned in Cairo. Mr. Sissi, brought to power by the 2013 military coup, had little interest in appearing alongside him. Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, preferred to court the most distant monarchies of the Gulf, to achieve the spectacular normalization of 2020 with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, then Sudan and Morocco.

Filling a political vacuum

This renewed proximity with the immediate neighbor, who signed a cold peace agreement with Israel in 1979, is a matter of both optics and necessity. The two governments have to prove to their common American ally that they are working to stabilize the occupied Palestinian territories after the last war in Gaza in May. President Joe Biden was then forced to get involved in favor of a ceasefire, he who does not wish to waste political capital in this conflict. He told Mr. Bennett at the end of August, when they first met in Washington.

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Since then, diplomatic gestures have multiplied: meeting of the Israeli defense minister with the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah, in August – a first for a decade also. Discreet and then formalized interviews by Israeli officials with Amman, the Jordanian capital neglected for several years, with which relations are at their lowest. Meeting between Mr. Sissi, the King of Jordan and Mr. Abbas in Cairo. All meetings that fall under the “Demonstration of goodwill, still very preliminary”, notes a diplomat from the region. Without an assumed political objective – Israel has ruled out peace negotiations with the Palestinians – the Jewish state intends to strengthen the economy of the territories and the Palestinian Authority in the process, in order to fill a political vacuum that emerged in May .

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