Report: Egypt Contemplates Diplomatic Downgrade With Israel Amid Tensions Over Rafah

By Yoni Weiss

Trucks with humanitarian aid arrive at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 24, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Egypt is deliberating on scaling back its diplomatic ties with Israel, potentially including recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv, reported the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, citing sources within Egypt.

This development follows Egypt’s announcement of joining South Africa in filing an application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, alongside its decision not to cooperate with Israel in reopening the Rafah border crossing, which is currently under Israeli control.

Sources revealed to the newspaper that Israel informed Cairo mere hours before commencing a limited operation to assume control of the passage linking Egypt to the Gaza Strip. However, this notification arrived after months of negotiations between the two parties concerning the planned action at Rafah.

The report detailed Israel’s assurances to Cairo that the Rafah crossing would remain unaffected and that Palestinians would receive weeks of prior notice to evacuate the area.

While Egypt considers recalling its ambassador, there is reportedly no intention to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. An Israeli source informed the Wall Street Journal that Egypt remains committed to facilitating aid to Palestinians and achieving a ceasefire.

Israeli officials reacted strongly to Egypt’s decision to join the case in The Hague, accusing Egypt of breaching previous agreements between the nations. Nevertheless, officials in Yerushalayim expressed doubts that Cairo’s move would sway the court’s decision.

A senior Israeli official remarked on Sunday that Egypt’s notification to The Hague represents a significant downturn in bilateral relations. “It’s not only Egypt’s notification to The Hague that concerns us, but it’s part of a broader problematic trend that has implications for state relations,” the official explained.

Another senior Israeli official commented on the unprecedented nature of Egypt’s actions, expressing concern over Egypt’s political pressure tactics. Jerusalem is currently engaged in high-level discussions with Cairo to urge the reopening of the Rafah crossing.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened an urgent conference call to address the developments at The Hague and Egypt’s notification. The Israeli Foreign Ministry strongly criticized South Africa’s approach to the court’s proceedings, which Egypt has joined, accusing South Africa of acting as the legal arm of Hamas in attempts to undermine Israel’s right to protect its citizens from attacks and to secure the release of hostages.

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