columnIsrael at War

Egypt must pay a price for its sponsorship of Hamas

Since Oct. 7, it has become clear that Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has been playing Israel for a fool.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt on Feb. 6, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt on Feb. 6, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

Israelis have long viewed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as an ally in the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Sisi, after all, led the Egyptian military in overthrowing Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government of then-president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Since the Hamas regime in Gaza played a key role in ousting former President Hosni Mubarak from power and assisting Muslim Brotherhood terrorists from escaping Egyptian prisons in the Sinai in 2011 and 2012, el-Sisi also shared Israel’s negative view of Hamas. He stood with Israel during the Hamas war against Israel in 2014.

But over the past several years, Sisi’s position has changed. And since Oct. 7, Egypt’s role in Hamas’s build-up of its forces and military capabilities has come into sharp relief. Indeed, as the months have passed, the conclusion has become unavoidable that far from acting as a restraint on Hamas’s military and economic power as it did a decade ago, Egypt in recent years, and still today is a major state sponsor of Hamas.

At every stage of the war—from the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion and slaughter on—el-Sisi’s regime has undermined Israel’s war effort in a bid to prevent the Jewish state from defeating Hamas. The motivations for Egypt’s support for Hamas are still difficult to assess. However, the financial interests of el-Sisi’s family appear to have been advanced significantly through cooperation with Hamas’s efforts to build tunnels across the border with Egypt. These operations have included smuggling weapons and raw materials for constructing weapons and tunnels, and transiting Hamas personnel between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

Then there is ideology.

Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, in 2017, Egypt abrogated all diplomatic ties with Qatar over Qatar’s support for Iran and its subversion of moderate Arab regimes on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood through its satellite television network Al Jazeera. In January 2021, Egypt was the first of those states to renew its ties with Qatar.

That rapprochement may well have also led to a reduction in ideological tensions between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood generally and between the el-Sisi regime and the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—Hamas, specifically.

For decades, observers of Egypt’s military buildup, and its development of military infrastructure in Sinai have warned that Egypt’s commitment to peace with Israel may be more declarative than real. In light of what Israel has seen since Oct. 7, which has pointed to close cooperation and coordination with Hamas, Egypt’s massive investment in its arsenals and military infrastructures in the Sinai has increased concern that under el-Sisi, Egypt is moving deliberately towards a confrontational posture towards the State of Israel.

On May 17, Israel revealed that during the early stages of the Israeli military’s operation to seize the international border zone between Egypt and Gaza in Rafah, the Israel Defense Forces discovered upwards of 50 underground tunnels that traverse the border between Gaza and Egypt. The scope of the cross-border tunnel project indicates that Egyptian authorities were not merely aware of Hamas’s operation. They were partners in Hamas’s efforts.

El-Sisi’s son, Gen. Mahmoud el-Sisi, serves as the deputy commander of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate. He co-founded Organi Group with Ibrahim Organi, a Bedouin chief in the northern Sinai. Through two subsidiaries, the Organi Group controls all aspects of the border zone with Egypt. It is the broker, for instance, for all bribes by Gazans seeking to cross into Egypt. Reports estimate that since the beginning of the war, Organi has received tens of millions of dollars in payments from Gazans for permission to enter Egypt. Israel’s takeover of the border zone from Hamas will necessarily involve the loss of massive profits for the Organi Group and its stakeholders—Sheikh al-Organi and General el-Sisi.

Egypt’s efforts to undermine Israel’s military operations in Gaza have involved acts of intimidation, threats, diplomatic and legal warfare, and sabotage.

Blocking the Exit of Gazans From the War Zone

Beginning on Oct. 10, the Egyptian president has blocked all efforts to permit civilians in Gaza from exiting the area either to seek refuge in Egypt for the duration of the war or to receive refuge in third countries. In justifying the move, el-Sisi said Egypt “will not allow the termination of the Palestinian cause.” In other words, he was committed to a policy that will forever keep the Palestinians locked in a genocidal effort to eliminate Israel by blocking all other options from the residents of Gaza.

Egypt’s refusal is unlawful under international humanitarian law and has had the operational impact of prolonging the war and the suffering of Gazans on the ground for seven months. Israel has been forced to construct humanitarian zones inside of Gaza amid the fighting to provide temporary refuge to civilians who live in battle zones. Hamas has used these crowded safe zones to continue its rocket and missile assaults on Israel.

Threats to Abrogate the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty

Beginning in February, el-Sisi began a practice of repeatedly threatening to cancel Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. He threatened to end Egypt’s peace with Israel and rejoin the pan-Arab war to annihilate the Jewish state if the IDF seized Rafah or took other measures required to defeat Hamas. In other words, el-Sisi has tied Egypt’s peace with Israel and its posture in the region to the survival of the Hamas regime in Gaza and Israel’s defeat in the war.

It was largely due to his threats—supported by the United States—that the IDF postponed its operation in Rafah for three months, adding to the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Hostage Negotiations

The primary victims of the prolongation of the war are the 128 hostages that Hamas is still holding in Gaza. On May 21, CNN reported that Egypt undermined a possible deal to free at least some of the hostages earlier this month by deliberately miscommunicating Israel’s offer to Hamas. Egypt’s reported action is responsible for the failure of those talks.

Blocking Humanitarian Aid

Israel’s first action in Rafah was to seize control over the international terminal that governs open travel between that city and Israel. The Rafah terminal was the chief transit point for humanitarian aid. Egypt responded to Israel’s operation by prohibiting the transit of humanitarian aid trucks through the terminal.

Political Warfare/Lawfare Against Israel

At the same time that Egypt undermined humanitarian-aid efforts, it joined the South Africans at the International Court of Justice at The Hague in accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians.

Egypt’s War Dividend

According to an investigative report in Tablet magazine, in exchange for its “moderating” role in mediating the war between Hamas and Israel, Egypt has received loans and investments from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates totaling more than $50 billion. While Egypt was on the brink of insolvency on Oct. 6, this inflow of money has now secured Egypt’s financial viability for the next several years.

There is no objective reason that el-Sisi’s extortionist pro-Hamas policies should succeed. U.S. leverage over Egypt is considerable. Use of but a fraction of that leverage by the U.S. can induce a significant shift in Egypt’s actions, at least in the immediate term. But rather than use it, the Biden administration to date, has rewarded el-Sisi for siding with Hamas against Israel.

Egypt would not have received its cash infusion from the IMF, the European Union and the UAE without a green light from Washington, which also provides Egypt with $3 billion in military aid per year. Rather than demand that Egypt follow international humanitarian law and permit Gazans to flee the war zone to Egypt, the administration has firmly supported el-Sisi’s refusal to permit them to cross the border. Similarly, Washington has been as critical of Israel’s operation in Rafah as Egypt.

Given the administration’s policy, it is time for American lawmakers who understand the danger Hamas’s survival poses to begin criticizing and Egypt’s nefarious role in facilitating Hamas’s weapons build-up and its success in building its warren of more than 400 miles of underground tunnels across Gaza and into Egypt. Egypt should see its aid tied to an end to its sponsorship of Hamas.

If Hamas survives, its perceived victory over Israel will of course inspire Hezbollah, the Houthis, the Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria and Iran itself to step up their assaults on the Jewish state. But it will also be an adrenalin shot for Islamists in the Western world to expand their terrorist attacks and other forms of political violence against Westerners and home and worldwide.

U.S. elected officials must express their disapproval of Egypt’s policies. They need to take action to undermine el-Sisi’s ability to maintain his pro-Hamas policies and anti-Israel brinkmanship by, among other things, tying U.S. fiscal support and military assistance to Egypt to an end to its cooperative relationship with Hamas; its political warfare against Israel; and threats to abrogate the peace treaty with the Jewish state.

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