EGYPT’S President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has just acknowledged, in an interview broadcast just eight days ago on US television, that his administration maintains deep relations with the regime in Tel Aviv, and is engaged in military cooperation with Israel in the Sinai Peninsula. Sisi made the acknowledgment during an interview broadcasted on US TV network CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ programme.
It comes as Egypt, under Sisi’s rule, has co-operated with Israel on security in the desert peninsula. Asked whether the co-operation was the closest and deepest that he has had with Israel, Sisi responded, ‘That is correct. The Air Force sometimes needs to cross to the Israeli side. And that’s why we have a wide range of coordination with the Israelis.’
Asked why he had not managed to wipe the ongoing militancy out after receiving more than $1bn in annual US military aid, Sisi responded by emphasising the challenges Washington has been facing against the Taliban in Afghanistan. ‘Why hasn’t the US eliminated the terrorists in Afghanistan after 17 years and spending a trillion dollars?’ Sisi asked.
Elsewhere in his responses Sisi, who won a second four-year term in office last year after running virtually unopposed, said that cooperation with Israel can be a sensitive and potentially damaging topic in Egypt. In fact Egypt’s military last year denied media reports that it was cooperating with Israel in the violence-hit region of northern Sinai.
The CBS networks broadcast the interview with Sisi in spite of a reported request by the Egyptian government not to air the programme.
And before the airing of the interview, CBS said specifically that the information given by Sisi was ‘not the kind of news his government wanted broadcast’. ‘The 60 Minutes team was contacted by the Egyptian ambassador shortly after and told the interview could not be aired,’ the network then reported.
Israel has full diplomatic relations with only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, but reports suggest the regime is also working behind the scenes to establish formal contact with Saudi Arabia and its allies. In fact Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu secretly travelled to Egypt in May last year for talks with Sisi over the situation in Gaza.
Then a senior official of the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement said – in November 2018 – that the willingness shown by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies to establish diplomatic relations with the Tel Aviv regime had exceeded all the expectations of Israeli officials – with Netanyahu saying he was not dreaming that a day would come when he sees normalised ties with the Persian Gulf kingdoms.
The fact that the sheikhdoms are dramatically warming their relations with the Tel Aviv regime after secret contacts, shows the policy is a decision dictated to them by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, the Deputy Chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council Sheikh Nabil Qaouq said.
At the same time, an analyst has said that an ongoing tour of Arab countries by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has as its purpose the normalising of relations with Israel. Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz visited Oman on November 4 last year to attend an international transport conference and pitch a railway project that would link the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean via the Israeli-occupied territories.
The trip came on the heels of a surprise visit by Netanyahu in late October 2018 to Oman, where he met Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said at the Bait al-Barakah Royal Palace in the coastal city of Seeb near the capital Muscat.
Netanyahu’s unpublicised visit to Oman came on the same day that Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev travelled to the United Arab Emirates to accompany Israel’s judo team at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018.
It is evident that any progress in the Arab-Israeli relations can only happen at the expense of the Palestinians. Critics say Saudi Arabia’s flirtation with Israel would undermine global efforts to isolate Tel Aviv and harm the Palestinian cause. They also say Riyadh has gone too far in its cooperation with Tel Aviv as a way of confronting Tehran.
And at the same time a former Bahraini minister has warned that Arabs and the Israeli regime are jointly looking to kill the Palestinian cause. In a statement released in November last year, US President Donald Trump said that Washington intended to remain ‘a steadfast partner’ of Riyadh to ensure the interests of the United States, Israel and the regional allies. Trump earlier had also stressed that the stability of Saudi Arabia benefits Tel Aviv, saying ‘Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia.’
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reportedly set to visit Bahrain amid suggestions that normalisation of Arab relations with Tel Aviv is on the cards. Riyadh put further pressure on other Persian Gulf states to normalise their relations with Israel this year, when it formed an alliance with Washington and Tel Aviv to protect its beleaguered crown prince in the aftermath of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Meanwhile, the Israeli politician and leader of the opposition Labour Party, Avi Gabbay, has reportedly paid a secret visit to the United Arab Emirates and discussed various regional issues with three senior Emirati officials, as a number of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region are warming their relations with the Tel Aviv regime after clandestine contacts.
Gabbay secretly visited Abu Dhabi last month and exchanged viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US President Donald Trump’s ‘deal of the century’, the so-called Arab Peace Initiative and Iran’s regional clout, as well as political developments in the occupied territories, Israel’s Channel 10 television network has reported.
The three Emirati officials, whom the Israeli opposition politician held talks with, are believed to be ministers or higher-ranked officials. The report added that Gabbay was accompanied on his visit, which took place between December 2nd and 4th last year, by former journalist Henrique Cymerman.
Gabbay was said to have flown to Abu Dhabi on a commercial flight via the Jordanian capital city of Amman. He was protected by local security forces during his visit. He reportedly updated the director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Yossi Cohen, on the content of his meetings immediately on his return to Israel. And Israel’s Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, secretly travelled twice to the UAE in November.
The visit was reportedly coordinated via a Moroccan national, who has ties with senior Emirati officials and has previously arranged other meetings for Gabbay with senior Arab officials.
Meanwhile, Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz visited Oman on November 4th last year to attend an international transport conference and pitch a railway project that could link the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean by way of the Israeli-occupied territories. The Israeli Prime Minister, in late November 2018, visited Oman, where he met Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said at the Bait al-Barakah Royal Palace in the coastal city of Seeb near the capital Muscat.
Israel’s English-language daily newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported that the two men discussed ways to advance the so-called Middle East peace process, as well as matters of mutual interest in regard to the region’s stability.
Netanyahu was accompanied by senior officials, including the head of the Mossad spy agency and his national security adviser. In fact a Persian Gulf kingdom reportedly expressed an interest in buying Israeli Hermes 450 attack drones, a few years ago.
Netanyahu’s unpublicised visit to Oman came on the same day that Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev travelled to the UAE to accompany Israel’s judo team at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018.
Regev arrived in Abu Dhabi on October 26, and she participated in the opening ceremony of the international event at the Emirati capital’s Zayed Sports City, Palestinian Arabic-language Ma’an news agency reported. Her visit to the UAE marked the first of its kind by an Israeli minister to a Persian Gulf littoral state.
And Israel’s economy minister says he has been invited to a technology event in Bahrain, as Tel Aviv and the Persian Gulf Arab states move towards normalisation. Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi have no diplomatic ties, and the UAE does not recognise Israel, but the two sides have increased backchannel cooperation in recent years. There have been numerous reports of growing contacts between Saudi and Israeli officials too.
Among Arab countries, in fact, Israel has diplomatic relations only with Egypt and Jordan.