Why Egypt backed South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the ICJ | Israel’s war against Gaza News

As Israel devastates Gaza, Egypt has had to watch developments on its border with growing concern.

Its border with the Palestinian enclave has been a route for aid in and people out, but Israel has had the final say over access to the border, even if it had no physical presence there until last week.

And it was that move – sending Israeli troops to the Rafah border crossing – that experts believe has cemented Egypt’s belief that Israel is not taking its political and security concerns seriously and is instead “lacking the I respect”.

Egypt has now taken its own measures: on May 12, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Egypt had joined South Africa’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide case against Israel.

“The importance of this move is that it sends a signal that Egypt is not happy with what is happening in Gaza and how Israel is behaving,” said Nancy Okail, an Egypt expert and president and CEO of the Center for International Policy. . even as she downplayed the effect of Egypt’s decision on the ICJ’s final verdict, calling it a “symbolic gesture.”

Egypt is increasingly alarmed by Israel’s military operations in Rafah, where around 1.5 million Palestinians from across Gaza had sought refuge.

The seizure of the Philadelphia corridor, which separates Egypt from Gaza, is particularly worrying for Cairo; The Egyptian parliament warned that the Israeli military presence there was a violation of the Camp David Accords that brought peace between Egypt and Israel.

“The way Israel has acted over the last week and a half has been incredibly worrying to Egyptian officials,” said Erin A. Snyder, an Egypt scholar and former professor at Texas A&M University. “They have been effectively showing a lack of respect for the relations they have (with Egypt).”

Were red lines crossed?

The possibility that Israel’s ultimate goal in Gaza is to expel its Palestinian population has worried Egypt since the war began in October.

Initially, Israel’s Intelligence Ministry drafted a document proposing the transfer of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Although the Israeli government downplayed the report, Israeli politicians, including the far-right duo of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, said they supported the “voluntary” migration of Palestinians of Gaza.

The repeated suggestions have raised alarm bells in Egypt, which views any such transfer of millions of Palestinians into its territory as a red line that cannot be crossed, and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has warned Israel against such a move. .

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi at a press conference in Cairo, October 25, 2023 (Christophe Ena/Pool/AFP)

“Egypt has been sounding the alarm about the destabilizing prospects of an Israeli military operation in Rafah and about any military action that could result in the alleged resettlement plan that emerged from Israel last fall,” said Hesham Sallam, an Egypt scholar. and the Middle East at Stanford University.

Israel has apparently taken steps to calm Egypt’s concerns by ordering Palestinians in Rafah to evacuate to al-Mawasi, a coastal area west of Rafah, away from Egypt.

Israel claims al-Mawasi is a “safe humanitarian zone,” but aid groups say tens of thousands of people are crowded into the area without access to adequate food or water.

Over the past week, 450,000 people have fled Rafah, according to the United Nations, and nearly a million remain.

“The Israelis intend to close things in Rafah in a similar way to what they did in Khan Younis, or at least eventually,” said HA Hellyer, an expert on Middle East geopolitics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Royal Institute. of United Services.

“That’s deeply worrying for Cairo because they don’t want any more escalation along the border.”

Dead end conversations?

Egypt has hosted ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel, playing a key role in mediation between the two sides, along with Qatar and the United States.

Children watch smoke rise during Israeli attacks east of Rafah
Children watch smoke rise as Israel attacks eastern Rafah on May 13, 2024, amid Israel’s continuing war on Gaza (AFP)

However, Egypt appears frustrated by Israel’s refusal to end the war in exchange for the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza, according to Timothy Kaldas, an Egypt expert and deputy director of the Tahrir Institute for Politics think tank. Middle East.

“The Israelis did not seem to take seriously the ceasefire talks that Egypt was organizing… and it is not clear to anyone what would make Israel agree to a ceasefire,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Egypt is probably quite frustrated that this conflict has no end in sight.”

Two days before Israel stormed east of Rafah, Egypt, Qatar and the United States pressured Hamas and Israel to sign an agreement. Hamas accepted a modified version of the ceasefire proposal presented at the talks, but Israel rejected it.

Days later, Egyptian military officials canceled a planned meeting with their Israeli counterparts due to their disagreement over the Rafah operation, according to Israeli press. “We don’t know what the meeting was supposed to be about. But certainly this move, which overlaps with (joining the ICJ case), is an indication that there is great frustration with Israel on Egypt’s part,” Sallam said.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held extensive talks with senior US officials this week and sought to lower the temperature between the two governments.  Gallant, although not part of Netanyahu's inner circle, is a key architect of the campaign against Hamas in retaliation for the militants' Oct. 7 attack that Israel says killed 1,200 people.  Israel's military response has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave.  The Israeli team will continue to be led by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, two of Netanyahu's closest confidants, according to a person familiar with the matter.  The talks are expected to focus on Israel's threatened offensive in Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.  State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday: "We make," when asked if the United States believes a limited military campaign in Rafah can eliminate the Palestinian militant group's remaining commanders.  The White House said last week that it intended to share with Israeli officials alternatives for eliminating the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah without a large-scale ground invasion that Washington said would be a "disaster." The threat of such an offensive has increased differences between close allies, the United States and Israel, and raised questions about whether the United States could restrict military aid if Netanyahu defies Biden and goes ahead anyway.  Biden, who is running for re-election in November, faces pressure not only from US allies but from a growing number of fellow Democrats to curb the Israeli military response in Gaza.  Biden's decision to abstain from the U.N., after months of mostly adhering to long-standing U.S. policy of protecting Israel at the world body, appeared to reflect growing U.S. frustration with the Israeli leader.  Netanyahu issued a harsh rebuke and called the US move a "clear withdrawal" from its previous position and would harm Israel's war efforts and negotiations to release more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza.  US officials said at the time that the Biden administration was perplexed by Netanyahu's decision and called it an overreaction, insisting there had been no policy change.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem on February 18, 2024 (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Another delegation of Israeli intelligence officials is said to have arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for talks with their Egyptian counterparts about Rafah.

Peace treaty in danger?

Egypt has little leverage left beyond suspending its peace treaty with Israel, a move experts say is unlikely. That move could jeopardize the $1.6 billion in U.S. military assistance that Egypt receives annually as part of the peace deal.

“Overall, I doubt there is any serious risk to the Camp David Accords,” Kaldas said. “Egyptians benefit in several ways from maintaining that agreement.”

Snyder said “anything is possible” and noted that everything Israel is doing in Gaza is unprecedented. However, he also does not expect Egypt to suspend the treaty, as it is critical to US regional interests.

“I feel that the United States is very concerned and is working to ensure that (the suspension of the treaty) does not happen,” he told Al Jazeera.

Snyder added that Egypt’s decision to join South Africa at the ICJ should also be seen as an attempt to pressure Israel’s strongest ally and largest arms supplier to take action on regional security.

“It’s not just about putting pressure on Israel. It is also about pressuring the United States to use its influence towards Israel,” he told Al Jazeera.

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