As the first Israeli missile landed on the besieged Gaza Strip, marking the start of an 11-day military offensive, Egypt saw a “tremendous opportunity” to assert itself politically in the region and, as many analysts say, to prove itself to the new US administration.
US President Joe Biden thanked Egypt for “its successful diplomacy” in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the group that governs Gaza.
“The Egyptian regime wishes to illustrate to the Biden administration that they can still handle the ‘Palestinian file’, and that they are willing to follow the US guidance in this regard,” Alaa Tartir, policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told Al Jazeera.
Washington’s reliance on Egypt comes as it is one of the few countries in the region that engages with both Israel and Hamas.
Egyptian diplomats were engaged in a flurry of diplomatic visits that eventually helped secure a ceasefire after the Israeli bombardment campaign killed 253 Palestinians, bolstering its regional role. The Gulf state of Qatar also played a role in the ceasefire.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received his Israeli counterpart in Cairo on Sunday to build on a more “permanent ceasefire”. Later, the country’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel visited Israel and then travelled to Gaza to meet Hamas leaders – the first visit since 2017.
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty following the 1967 war, and share the same contempt for Hamas, whom Cairo accused of being a Muslim Brotherhood proxy. Cairo considers the Palestinian group as a threat to Egypt’s security and stability.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power after overthrowing Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a military coup in 2013.
‘Tremendous opportunity for el-Sisi’
Egypt shut the Gaza border crossing with the Palestinian territory in 2007 when Hamas took control of it after elections. But despite the complex relationship between Egypt and Hamas, Cairo is now trying to leverage on its relationship with the group to “improve its standing in Washington”, Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, told Al Jazeera.
“That also means that Egypt is now actively engaged in efforts to prevent a renewed confrontation, conclude a prisoner exchange, and play a central role in further associated arrangements,” Rabbani said.