OpinionIsrael at War

Egypt’s duplicity, the world’s silence

The Egyptians are, in reality, upset because Israeli forces on May 7 seized the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers operating in eastern Rafah, the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli soldiers operating in eastern Rafah, the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Bassam Tawil

On May 12, Egypt announced that it would support South Africa’s genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The announcement came in response to the ongoing Israeli military operation against Hamas terrorists and bases, especially in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

If the South Africans had any decency, they would not only call out the Egyptians for being hypocrites and liars, but they would also file a case with the ICJ against Egypt for its role in transforming the Gaza Strip into a weapons depot and continuing to deprive the Palestinians there of humanitarian aid.

Last week, Egypt refused to coordinate with Israel on the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip from the Rafah border crossing, ostensibly due to Israel’s “unacceptable escalation,” reported Egypt’s state-affiliated Alqahera News satellite TV. The official also said that Egypt held Israel responsible for the deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptians are, in reality, upset because Israeli forces on May 7 seized the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

For the past 15 years, the Palestinian side of the terminal was controlled by Hamas and profitably used by both sides to smuggle weapons and terrorists.

Over the past few decades, Egypt, for considerable remuneration, has allowed the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip from its territory.

“The expectation that Egypt will put an end to the traffic in the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border is not realistic—for strategic, political and domestic reasons,” according to a report by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

The report, although published in 2009, remains as relevant as ever:

“At the strategic level, Egypt sees Israel as a competitor in the quest for hegemony in the Middle East, and has for years turned a blind eye to the arming of Hamas via the tunnels. Simply put, it had, and still has, an interest in bleeding Israel …

“The two-faced policy being pursued by the Mubarak administration also serves a useful purpose in domestic Egyptian politics. In contrast to Europeans and other foreigners, Egyptian citizens easily recognize and comprehend their government’s double-dealing. Everybody in Cairo understands that the government is facilitating the arming of Hamas; and turning a blind eye to the tunnels weakens the argument of the Islamic opposition that the government is cooperating with the Zionists. Moreover, curbing the traffic in the tunnels would worsen the economic situation in Gaza. Pictures of suffering in Gaza or of Palestinians climbing the fences to get into Egypt only help the Islamist opposition.

“Finally, Egypt’s double game is also a result of a complex reality in the Sinai Peninsula. As with other Third World states, the Egyptian government is not fully in control of its territory. Thus, an international agreement on ending arms smuggling from Sinai into Gaza will face considerable problems of implementation, even if the Egyptian regime wants it to happen.

“Notably, most of the smuggling into Gaza is led by Egyptian Bedouins who live in the northern Sinai. These tribes do not speak Egyptian Arabic, they are not really an integral part of Egyptian culture and society, and they do not subscribe to Egyptian political ethos. They make a living by smuggling women and drugs to Israel, as well as arms, ammunition, and missiles to the Gaza Strip.

“Egyptian attempts to extend law and order to Bedouin areas have met armed resistance. Every time the Egyptian regime attempts to curtail the Bedouin smuggling activities, they carry out a terrorist attack on a Sinai resort, as has happened in Taba, Sharm el-Sheikh (twice), Nueiba, and Ras al-Satan. Such attacks negatively influence tourism to Egypt, an important source of income, and seem to be an effective way of ‘convincing’ the Cairo authorities to live and let live.

“Bribery, an important element in the Egyptian ways of doing business, also facilitates the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Low-paid Egyptian officials in Sinai can hardly resist hefty bribes. A one-hundred-dollar bill does wonders with an Egyptian police officer at a Sinai roadblock who intercepts a truck packed with ‘pipes.’ The likelihood that policemen at Egyptian checkpoints will stop taking bribes from trucks transferring arms to Gaza is very low—unless the Egyptian government decides to heavily punish such behavior. Only execution of smugglers could have a deterring effect, but such determined Egyptian government behavior is also unlikely.”

By turning a blind eye to its widespread smuggling industry, Egypt significantly contributed to transforming the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into a major base for Islamist terrorism.

If the Egyptians actually cared about the Palestinians, instead of blocking the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip, they could easily coordinate with Israel through alternative border crossings such as the nearby Kerem Shalom terminal.

The Egyptians, however, are refusing to send aid to the Gaza Strip through Kerem Shalom. For the past week, the Egyptians have been blocking aid to the Gaza Strip by refusing to coordinate the entry of truckloads through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border crossings.

The Egyptians appear to be playing the “humanitarian aid card” to pressure Israel to stop the war on Hamas. They seem to believe, perhaps correctly, that by blocking the aid to the Palestinians, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip will escalate and the world will blame Israel, not Hamas or Egypt, for the ongoing suffering of the people there. Evidently, the Egyptians would rather see the Gazans starve; the international community, as usual, would hold only Israel responsible.

That is the real problem: Where is the demand from the international community for Egypt to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip? Where are social media posts, the U.S. college campus protests and the op-eds condemning Egypt for deliberately withholding aid from Gaza’s Palestinians?

Why doesn’t the Biden administration pressure Egypt, and not just Israel, to allow aid to enter Gaza for the Palestinians?

Instead of pressuring Israel in order to avoid targeting Hamas terrorists in Rafah, U.S. President Joe Biden could have already been on the phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to urge him to assist his Palestinian brethren.

The Egyptians’ decision to join the South African case against Israel at the ICJ, as well as their decision to block aid to the Palestinians, indicate that they may be nervous about what Israel will uncover regarding weapons smuggling along Egypt’s border in the Rafah area.

The Egyptians may reasonably be worried that Israel will discover dozens of the smuggling tunnels that operated for many years under the nose of the Egyptian authorities and were used to enlarge Hamas’s military capabilities in the Gaza Strip.

Where are the self-proclaimed pro-Palestinian protesters at college campuses in the U.S. speaking out negatively about Egypt, which has been actively blocking aid as Israel is trying to get it in?

Egypt has, in fact, been imposing a blockade on the Gaza Strip for the past 15 years. Egypt allows only Gazans who pay exorbitant bribes to enter its territory and shuts out everyone else, including those who want to flee the Gaza Strip. Where are the social media posts saying “F**k Egypt?” Where are the protesters calling to stop the billions in aid to Egypt?

They do not, of course, exist. The protests are never about helping Palestinians. They are always only about attacking Jews.

Do the anti-Israel protesters on U.S. campuses know that half of the city of Rafah is located inside Egypt? Do they know that the Egyptians have demolished literally thousands of houses on the Egyptian side of the border for “security reasons”?

This same Egypt that has been displacing thousands of Palestinians from Rafah after demolishing their homes and is now blocking aid to the Palestinians, has now piously decided to join the South African case against Israel at the ICJ.

According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, on Oct. 29, 2014, five days after an Islamist terror group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis attacked a checkpoint near Rafah, Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb issued a decree ordering the “eviction and isolation” of a buffer zone extending between five and seven kilometers from the border with Gaza and including all of Rafah.

The HRW report noted:

“Mehleb’s decree encompassed a much larger area than government officials had previously described in public statements about home demolitions, which the military had been conducting throughout 2013 and 2014. A map contained in the decree delineated a zone that extended along the entire 13-kilometer border [of Egypt] with Gaza and encompassed roughly 79 square kilometers of Egyptian territory. The [prime minister’s] decree ordered that those forced to leave be provided with ‘due compensation’ and alternative housing [presumably provided by Egypt].”

Between 2013 and 2014, the Egyptian military demolished at least 540 buildings, according to HRW. Most were within 500 meters of the border but some lay beyond a kilometer from it. Between Oct. 25, 2014, and Aug. 15, 2015, satellite imagery analysis showed that the authorities demolished at least 2,715 additional buildings.

In total, the Egyptian military destroyed at least 3,255 residential, commercial and community buildings, including schools, mosques and hospitals. All of the destroyed buildings showed clear signs of having been deliberately demolished using a combination of heavy machinery and the uncontrolled detonation of high explosives.

The HRW report revealed:

“The start of demolitions began in July 2013, but journalists only began reporting on demolitions that September, describing them as the possible beginning of a buffer zone. Egyptian officials quoted in these media reports claimed that the buffer zone would protect Egypt’s national security by preventing Gaza-based armed groups from smuggling fighters and weapons into the Sinai and fueling the insurgency there.”

According to families who spoke with HRW, Egyptian authorities did not consult with Rafah residents before issuing the eviction decree on Oct. 29, 2014, and did not give proper notice that residents would be forced to leave. Of 11 families interviewed, only five were warned of the impending eviction. Those families said they were warned by army patrols who told them that they had between 36 and 48 hours to leave. The authorities never handed out a written notice, they said. Six other families said that they received no notice, or heard about the eviction only from the news media or their neighbors.

This is just another example of how, when Palestinians become victims of oppressive measures taken against them by their Arab brothers, the world does not care a bit. About a decade ago, when Egypt demolished dozens of houses and buildings in Rafah as part of a campaign to combat terrorism, no one said a word against the Egyptians—or even bothered to look.

Now that Israel is attempting to dismantle a terrorist group whose primary objective is the elimination of Israel, the Biden administration and many in the international community suddenly claim they are “outraged.”

If they really want to help the Palestinians, they could begin by filing cases against Egypt and the Arab states in the region that, for many decades, have turned their backs on the Palestinians and paid billions to their governments to keep on mistreating them.

This is an edited version of an article originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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