Almost four decades since former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat extended a hand of peace to Israel, the two governments have reached “full partnership and unbreakable alliance”, analysts say.
Although many Egyptians continue to regard Israel as a threat and sympathise with the Palestinian cause, the relationship between the two countries has become markedly explicit under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“Egyptian-Israeli relations are today at their highest level in history,” Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a research NGO, told Al Jazeera
And it certainly appears so.
In 2016, Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, visited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a much-publicised meeting at the latter’s home in Jerusalem. It was the first visit by any Egyptian FM in close to a decade. Netanyahu said the two “made time to watch the Euro 2016 final” football game together.
In 2015, the Israeli embassy in Cairo was reopened after a four-year closure, due to protests in front of the embassy over Israel’s killing of several Egyptian police officers in the Sinai. And, in the same year, Egypt voted in favour of Israel to become a member of a United Nations committee – the first time that Egypt has voted for Israel at the UN since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.
Such examples are only a few of the many developments that signal a new chapter in this relationship, which Mohamed Soliman, a Cairo-based political analyst, characterises as a “full partnership, unbreakable alliance and diplomatic completion” between the two countries.
The alliance, analysts say, has been predicated on military and security cooperation, mainly with regard to the armed groups operating in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and the Egyptian Sinai desert.
The two have worked together to battle the Sinai insurgency, where allies of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), have gained momentum in recent years.
Thrall says Israel “has repeatedly allowed” Egypt to bring forces and weapons into the Sinai beyond the scope of the peace treaty.
Israel’s willingness to allow Egypt to deploy into areas that clearly defy the security appendix of the Camp David Accords demonstrates a “flexibility and coordination between Egypt and Israel [that came] early in Sisi’s tenure,” Soliman told Al Jazeera.
The relationship between the two countries has become so lucid that there have been multiple, but unconfirmed, reports of Israel carrying out drone strikes in Sinai with Egypt’s consent.
The common ground has also extended to a dislike of Hamas, the political and armed movement that governs two million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip. Egypt has accused Hamas of being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, while Israel considers it a threat to its sovereignty.
Since Sisi’s coming to power in 2014, Egyptian authorities have kept the Sinai border crossing with Gaza largely sealed. The move has suffocated its residents, whose only other passage to the outside world is through Israel, which imposes an airtight blockade.
Besides keeping their borders shut, the two countries cooperated in the most recent destruction and flooding of the vast Palestinian-built tunnel network between Gaza and the Sinai, analysts say. The tunnels, used for everything from smuggling people out and KFC in, are viewed as a threat to both Israel and Egypt. Both sides claim the tunnels were being used for weapon trade.
“Egypt and Israel view the tunnel economy between the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza as a clear and present danger. Cairo knows that the tunnel economy enriches smugglers on the Sinai side – many of whom have ties to the local Islamic State branch – while Israel is well aware that it bolsters and arms Hamas in Gaza,” Oren Kessler, deputy director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a DC-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera.
“Egypt has taken an uncompromising approach to destroying the tunnels, and has worked with Israel to do so.”
While cooperation over the flooding of the tunnels has not been announced publicly, Israel’s energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, stated that some flooding took place at Israel’s request, but he was reportedly forced to retract his claims.
Aside from military cooperation and common enemies, Israel and Egypt have found mutually beneficial economic opportunities in gas, in a partnership that predates Sisi’s arrival.
Until 2012, Egypt had been selling natural gas to Israel as part of a 20-year deal that was cancelled. According to Bloomberg, the two countries are now close to securing a new multibillion-dollar deal that would see Israel export gas to Egypt