Egypt steps up regional mediation efforts, caught between security crises

Egyptian President al-Sissi. 

Political backlash of Israel-Hamas 2021 conflict episode, reflection on Egypt’s looming water crisis

By Rachel Brooks

May 24, 2021 

News and analysis

Continued antisemitic attacks and an effort from Israel to brace for the risk of Iranian drones draw ever-spiking rhetoric heat for Jews around the world and the Jewish state. This fall out of the Israel-Hamas 2021 conflict episode, which lasted for 11 days, and reached an Egypt mitigated ceasefire, has accented to a shifting western political stance toward the Middle East. Reuters reported that Egypt followed up on May 22 with plans to reinforce the ceasefire after it held for one day. CNBC reported that the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was set to join these mediative talks, as Egyptian negotiators “shuttle between the sides” in an attempt to continue mediation. 

The western world continues to take a double-sided approach to the Middle East policy, attempting to mediate relief to civilians while preventing the increase of the Islamist regimes that are keeping them boxed in. The Biden administration has reportedly expressed their goal in Gaza is to “rebuild Gaza without strengthening Hamas,” wrote Haaretz.  

This has led the western leadership to engage in dialogue with Iran. Geopolitical strategists and critics of the Biden administration call out the policies of Iran’s rapprochement as “doomed to fail” as the anti-western stance of Iran and its political supporters intensifies. 

As the west continues this stance, which has received criticism from those who support the Trump-era’s maximum pressure campaign to decrease the Iranian aggression threat, Egypt seeks long-term mitigation for the ceasefire. This came as Hamas fighters continued to parade the streets of Gaza. Egypt has increased interest in regional security as the Hamas-Israel conflict endangers the stability of Egypt along the Red Sea coastline. Likewise, Egypt is braced with a regional security crisis from its neighbor Ethiopia, as the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam talks continue to deadlock. Egypt continues to warn of the ramifications that the second-filling of the GERD will have upon its territory. 

The Biden administration “snubbed” Egyptian President al-Sissi as a regional diplomatic negotiator, stated the  Washington Post, citing his diplomacy with Donald Trump. Biden made remarks that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s favorite dictator,” warning al-Sissi to improve his human rights record. 

As the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted once more, al-Sissi reportedly “seized an opportunity” to prove his relevance to the western world. Egypt is one of few states to have “close contacts” with both Israel and Hamas. When the ceasefire was reached, Biden congratulated al-Sissi for his “key role in diplomacy” between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza. The American president’s approval in this instance was beneficial to Egypt, as the nation faced American lawmakers’ suggestions that the U.S. cut defense aid to Egypt. Biden and al-Sissi had a conference call in the hours to follow the ceasefire agreement and agreed to “stay closely in touch.” 

On Monday, Egypt Independent reported continued warnings from the Egypt Minister of Irrigation and Water Sources regarding the second-filling. The minister stated that the filling will create a “water shock” for Egypt. He stressed his sincere hopes for a quick break of the deadlock that gives the Nile-dependent states pause, fearing for their way of life as the dam production persists. Israel, with its leading innovation and research into water conservancy and desert permaculture, could prove useful to Egypt’s looming water crisis. Al-Monitor reported some activity between Israel and Egypt that could suggest Egypt is entertaining cooperation with Israeli agricultural expertise over its looming water crisis. The Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen mentioned cooperation efforts between Egypt and Israel to turn the “lukewarm peace” between the two nations into a “warm peace” that might pave the way for Israel’s advanced irrigation science to assist Egypt in its crisis. Likewise, Israeli commentators have argued that the GERD presents an opportunity for the Nile-dependent states to “cooperate” and that it should not be a polarizing issue if executed properly, as was reported by Israel Hayom. 

As Israel’s scholars stress the need for cooperation on the GERD water crisis, in the political fallout of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Israel faces water warfare of its own, in the form of a by-sea crisis. The Jerusalem Post reported that Turkey has threatened Israel with a “Libya model” for Hamas-controlled Gaza. Turkey threatens to sign a deal with Hamas to have access to water and energy rights off of Israel’s coast. Turkish media was citing the model used by the Turkish government to send Syrian forces into the mix of the Libyan war between the Government of National Accord and the warlord Khalifa Haftar. This Turkish territorial “boxing in” of Israel threatens to cut Israel off entirely from the pipeline that it wishes to build in cooperation with Greece and Cyrpus, called the East Med pipeline.

Egypt’s relations with Turkey appear to be “thawing” citing Turkish media, a fact that may add to the power of Egypt as a regional mediator of the Turkish interest in Hamas-controlled Gaza and its continued diplomatic issues with Israel. A stronger Egyptian diploamcy may prevent escalations of Turkish interest, as Egypt has a vested interest in the regional quiet of the waters of Israel and Gaza’s collective coastline due to proximity. 

Yet, a growing aggressiveness of Turkey in the region could also prove detrimental to Turkey’s ties with Egypt. Turkey’s attempted intervention in the crisis between Egypt and its Nile-dependent neighbors was “blasted” by the Egyptian minister of irrigation, as was reported by World Bulletin. Turkey had offered Ethiopia its expertise in its dam project, a move that Egypt blasted for the threat it held for the Egyptian water crisis. Egypt noted that when Turkey built the Ataturk Dam, it “made Syrians and Iraqis thirsty,” and that it had “ignored international agreements.” Should Turkish aggressive policy create tensions in its relationship with Egypt, this could add tension to the overlapping regional crisis of the GERD dam and the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

As the region grows increasingly anxious over its neighborly tension, it simultaneously faces the end game of Iran. Defense News reported that Israel was “racing to stop” the “growing threat of drones” after it was braced with the threat from Iranian drones on the sidelines of the 11-Day war with Hamas. Hamas’ incursion into Israel from bases in the Gaza strip is a proxy conflict of the Iranian regime. During the 11-day conflict, other Iranian proxy actors, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, showed aggression to Israel. Since April 27, Israel has continued to locate and eliminate drones from the direction of Lebanon, which the IDF states “belonged to Hezbollah.”