Quarterly Updates for (16 Nov 2016 — 15 Feb 2017)

Aside from working with the Palestinians to submit an anti-settlement res. to the UNSC on 12/21 (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above), the Egyptian govt. was largely absent from the Israeli-Palestinian arena this quarter. A new threat challenged Pres. al-Sisi’s ongoing efforts to improve relations with Israel, and Cairo continued working with Hamas to improve relations and ameliorate humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

While the Egyptian govt. was less enthusiastic than its Israeli counterpart about trumpeting it as a burgeoning Egypt-Israel rapprochement, Israeli-Egyptian security coordination continued apace, drawing increased blowback from mutual adversaries in n. Sinai. On 12/13, Sinai Province of the Islamic State (SPIS) attempted to fire 2 rockets into Israel. Although the missiles fell in an open area short of the border, SPIS claimed (12/14) the attack, describing it as retaliation for alleged recent Israeli air strikes in n. Sinai. Later in the quarter, Israel reported that its Iron Dome missile defense batteries intercepted (2/8) a barrage of rockets, presumably launched by armed groups in n. Sinai. Meanwhile, the staff of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, including Amb. David Govrin, were recalled to Jerusalem due to safety concerns (Haaretz, 2/14). Shin Bet said that Govrin would not be returning any time soon, but did not disclose the nature of the alleged threat.

Such incidents notwithstanding, an Israeli defense official indicated (1/9) that the Israeli govt. had adopted a new policy permitting Egypt to maintain a larger military force in Sinai than Israel had previously allowed. “[SPIS] is a common threat and a common interest,” the official emphasized.

Alongside the crackdown on insurgent groups in n. Sinai, the Egyptian authorities began easing restrictions on Gaza and improving their relationship with Hamas. Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing for 17 days this quarter (see “Movement and Access” above) to “lessen the siege on the Gaza Strip,” according to Egyptian security sources on 12/15. While this constituted a drop from last quarter’s 21, it was a welcome increase from the total of 14 days in the 6 mos. between 2/16/2016 when the crossing was open. Furthermore, 40 cars were allowed (12/18) into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, marking the 1st time vehicles were allowed through since 2013. After bilateral talks in Cairo later in the quarter (1/22), an Egyptian security source said that relations between Hamas and Egypt were improving as a result of better security cooperation along Gaza’s s. border (see JPS 46 [2]). The official also said that al-Sisi had given the “green light” for improving relations with the various Palestinian factions to facilitate Palestinian national reconciliation (see “Intra-Palestinian Dynamics” above).

Also of note: Egyptian forces killed 5 Palestinians this quarter when they flooded smuggling tunnels with seawater (12/3 [4] and 2/13). They also shot and injured a Palestinian fisherman working nr. the Egyptian coast on 12/21.