Skip to main content

Israeli spy chief visits Egypt in bid to placate tensions

Following the Egyptian brokered ceasefire in Gaza, Cairo was angered that Israel continued to inflame tensions in the West Bank. Now Israel is seeking to mend fences
Israeli PM Naftali Bennett (L) meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (R) in 2021 - in recent weeks, relations between the two countries have become strained (Reuters)

Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz confirmed on Monday that a political schism with Egypt had arisen following Tel Aviv's recent assault on Gaza.

Speaking on an Israeli radio station, Gantz admitted "that there are days of tensions that result from the end of Operation [Breaking] Dawn".

The Israeli army announced Operation Breaking Dawn on 5 August, initially with the aim of targeting members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The assault on Gaza ended on 7 August but not before killing 45 Palestinian civilians, including 15 children, a total power cut, and the destruction of dozens of homes and buildings.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Gantz added in his interview that "relations between friends have ups and downs... without getting into one specific event or another, we will know how to stabilise the relationship. It is in their interest and ours. We should not take every crisis and turn it into a predictor of everything. I hope it will pass in the coming days." 

'Relations between friends have ups and downs... without getting into one specific event or another, we will know how to stabilise the relationship. It is in their interest and ours' 

- Benny Gantz, Israeli defence minister

In a bid to repair relations between the two countries, Israel sent Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, in charge of the country's internal security service, to Egypt on Sunday.

Bar's visit has not been confirmed by either Israel or Egypt, but Hebrew-language media has reported on it.

According to the reports, Bar met with Egyptian spymaster Abbas Kamel.

Egypt, which has long served as the main interlocutor between Israel and Gaza-based groups, played a key role in mediating a ceasefire between the PIJ and Israel. 

Following the ceasefire, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, in a phone call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, was apparently led to believe that Israel would significantly reduce arrests and tensions in the occupied West Bank.

But within 48 hours of the ceasefire coming into effect, Israeli troops killed three Palestinians, including the senior resistance fighter Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, during a raid centered on a house in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. That operation angered the Egyptian government. 

According to the Israeli reports, Cairo viewed the Nabulsi killing as, "Israel sticking a finger in the president's eye."

Cairo's anger towards Israel was expressed by Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations, Osama Abdel Khalek, who, in a speech at an emergency Security Council session on 9 August condemned Tel Aviv for allowing "settlers under the protection of the Israeli police to incur the courtyards of the Haram al-Sharif" in occupied East Jerusalem. 

His comments came hours after Israel heaped praise on Egypt for "restoring the calm and stability to our region".

The comments by Khalek, who also expressed solidarity with all the "martyrs" killed by Israel in Gaza, were widely interpreted in Israeli media as a sign of a rift between the two sides.

Israel's refusal to curb its hostilities in the occupied West Bank also led to Egypt's spy chief Kamel to cancel a planned visit to Israel in protest at the perceived slight by Tel-Aviv.

Palestinians angry with Egypt

The frustration over the Gaza assault is shared by the PIJ, who were angry with Cairo's mixed signals ahead of the first air strikes on 5 August that killed one of the group's senior commanders. 

Sources close to the PIJ revealed to Middle East Eye that Egyptian mediators told the group Israel was not looking for an escalation and would respond "positively" to a request to release two imprisoned PIJ commanders four hours before it began bombing the Gaza Strip.

"[The PIJ] believe they have been betrayed by the Egyptians and that they were part of the game - to make them feel relaxed and secure just before the air strikes took place," a senior Palestinian source close to the PIJ told MEE.

"There is a lot of anger and tension within Islamic Jihad because of the role of [the] Egyptian mediation because they consider the Egyptians gave them misleading information and hints just before the air strikes. As a result of this information, the Islamic Jihad relaxed and was unprepared for the air strikes."

Sources close to the PIJ told MEE that Egyptian mediator Brigadier Ahmed Abdul Khaliq incorrectly told Khaled al-Batsh, a senior PIJ political bureau member, that there had been a "breakthrough" in indirect negotiations. 

Israeli intelligence agents reportedly passed the following message to the PIJ through Egyptian intelligence: "We want to end this escalation. Give us until Sunday, and we are pushing them [Israel's political leaders] to agree."

What happened in Gaza?

Israel arrested Bassam el-Saadi, a senior member of PIJ, in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on 1 August.

Although the group did not respond, Israel launched air strikes into Gaza that killed several Palestinians, including a top member of the group, Tayseer Jabari, in Gaza.

Exclusive: Islamic Jihad angry with Egypt 'betrayal' ahead of Gaza raids
Read More »

Israel claimed that the organisation was planning an attack. However, it provided no evidence for that.

Not everyone is buying the Israeli account that it was attempting to prevent an attack by the PIJ.

"The bottom line is that after Israel allegedly tried to prevent Islamic Jihad attacks, it is now receiving rockets that apparently would not have happened if Israel did not attack first," Israeli analyst Meron Rapoport told MEE.

The analyst noted that Israel was essentially punishing the PIJ for not attacking in retaliation to Saadi's arrest, given that the group only launched rockets after Israel made air strikes on Gaza.

Israel is expected to go to the polls in November, and Israeli politicians may be seeking to burnish their strong-man credentials in a bid to out-manoeuvre former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is leading the polls.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.