Prof. Eyal Zisser
Prof. Eyal Zisser

The alliance of shared interests between Israel and Egypt has grown stronger in recent months. Not only do both countries see eye to eye on developments in the Middle East, primarily the threats to regional stability and national security, they are also translating this understanding into actual, practical cooperation aimed at confronting those threats.

Naturally, many aspects of this cooperation are hidden from the public eye. Both countries are tackling the spread of Islamist extremism in the area, spearheaded by groups like the Islamic State’s Sinai branch, which is responsible for a series of terrorist attacks against Egyptian and Israeli targets alike. It is also important to note that both Israel and Egypt believe the fight against ISIS in Sinai entails, and even necessitates, confronting Hamas in Gaza. Hamas’s very existence in the Gaza Strip has been a constant headache for both countries. However, in the absence of the ability or the will to topple Hamas, continuously working to curb the threats it poses is imperative, which means targeting Hamas’s attack tunnels leading into Israel and the weapons-smuggling tunnels from Sinai. These weapons, as we know, will likely be used by Hamas to attack Israel and by ISIS forces in Sinai to attack Egyptian security forces.

The warming ties between Jerusalem and Cairo are manifesting themselves in an upgrade in diplomatic relations. Case in point: Egypt dispatched an ambassador to Israel in January, and its leadership has taken to making responsible and levelheaded statements regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

With that, the improved diplomatic and security relationship between the countries still has not trickled down to the street. In fact, a large portion of the Egyptian public still exhibits open hostility toward Israel in an almost Pavlovian manner. It is hard to gauge the extent to which this hostility, which Egypt’s intellectual elite also expresses on occasion, truly represents the mood of the average Egyptian in the street. As we know, most Egyptians are struggling with Egypt’s dire economic situation, which presently tops the national agenda.

It is noteworthy that even among customarily hostile circles in Egypt, calls for war against Israel or the severing of diplomatic ties are absent from the current discourse. Preserving the peace accord with Israel is viewed as a clear national interest, and a widespread consensus on this matter transverses all layers of Egyptian society. The argument is over expanding the relationship to the economic and cultural spheres, and in this regard many Egyptians prefer following the mood of the Arab world — which remains hostile toward Israel. After all, these days it is hard to find two Arabs who agree on anything, and the Israeli-Arab conflict serves as a common denominator among Arabs on the most basic level.

From here we arrive at the bizarre spectacle earlier this month, in which Egyptian parliamentarians voted to expel a fellow lawmaker for meeting with the Israeli ambassador. It doesn’t take too much intelligence to realize that these lawmakers don’t represent much of anyone in Egypt, and it is doubtful whether they even care about the conflict with Israel. What’s interesting in this story is that an Egyptian parliamentarian dared do what many of his colleagues perhaps wished they could, were they not afraid of the backlash from fellow lawmakers.

The bottom line, however, is that both countries’ leaderships have a common view of the challenges that lie ahead. In retrospect, perhaps the understandings shared by the respective political and security echelons are more significant than the ephemeral mood on the street or among segments of the cultural and intellectual elite in the Arab world. The peace accord is an asset that the next generation of leaders and military commanders, from both countries, are encouraged to cultivate. Incidentally, replace the name Egypt with Jordan, and this article would perfectly describe the relationship between Jerusalem and Amman.

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