As Egypt celebrates October War anniversary, Cairo-Tel Aviv ties in focus
After Egypt marked the 44th anniversary of the start of the October War that led to the Camp David Accords and peace between Cairo and Tel Aviv, analysts looked to the future of Egyptian-Israeli ties.
“There is marked transformation in ties between the two countries,” said Tharwat el-Nosieri, a retired army general who served as a lieutenant-colonel during the war. “This transformation serves the security interests of both Egypt and Israel and reflects on general conditions in the region.”
Following a humiliating defeat in the Six-Day War (1967) — known in Egypt as al-Naksah or “the Setback” — the three-week war in October 1973 is a point of great pride for most Egyptians. Named for the day the war started, 6th of October city is a populous suburb of Cairo.
After the war, Egypt became the first Arab country to officially recognise Israel, with Anwar Sadat signing the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979. Although relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv remained remote over the ensuing decades, amid popular Egyptian suspicion and discontent towards Israel, there have been signs that Egyptian-Israeli ties are warming.
“One of the reasons this is happening is that as a former army officer, Egyptian President [Abdel Fattah al-Sisi] knows that war is only about death and destruction,” said Magdi Shehata, who commanded an Egyptian battalion during the October War.
“This is why Sisi is very keen to create a different future for everybody in this region, one free from the conflicts, bitterness and bloodshed of the past,” he said.
Sisi has brought rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to the negotiating table amid hopes that inter-Palestinian reconciliation could reinvigorate the stalled Palestinian- Israeli peace process.
“I tell the Palestinian people it’s extremely important… to overcome the differences and not to lose opportunities and to be ready to accept co-existence with the other, with Israelis in safety and security,” Sisi said at the UN General Assembly in September.
Addressing the Israeli delegation, Sisi said: “We have an excellent experience in Egypt in peace with you [Israel] for longer than 40 years… We can repeat this experience and this excellent step once again.”
Sisi met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the General Assembly and urged both leaders to restart the peace process.
Analysts said, however, that Sisi’s attempts to resuscitate the Middle East peace process are premature given the many challenges in the way.
“These challenges include Palestinian divisions and whether the main parties, namely the Palestinians and the Israelis, really want peace,” said Mohamed Kamal, a professor of political science at Cairo University. “Egypt can try but, at the end, it will not force the Palestinians and the Israelis to make peace if they do not have the will.”
Israel has said it would not acknowledge any reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah that did not see Hamas explicitly recognise Israel, disband its military wing and cut ties with Iran — conditions the Islamist militant faction is unlikely to agree to. Officials of the Palestinian factions warned that peace talks cannot begin until Israel halts its illegal settlement building.
Cairo and Tel Aviv, however, appear to share many of the same objectives, not least an interest in countermanding Iranian influence in the region and ensuring calm in the Sinai Peninsula where the Islamic State (ISIS) has a toehold.
Egypt and Israel have increased military and security coordination, albeit discretely, including participating in upcoming air force drills in Greece, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said.
“Whether Israel can have similarly good relations with other Islamic countries in the future depends on the extent to which it demonstrates a will to make peace with the Palestinians,” Kamal said. “When there is peace, the public anywhere will find no reason to object to good relations with Tel Aviv.”
Ahmed Meghid is an Egyptian reporter based in Cairo.