Op-edThe Rafah operation is a severe blow to Cairo's authority

Beyond Israel’s borders: Netanyahu’s arrogance risks Israeli-Egyptian relations

India signs port agreement with Iran * Kuwait goes back to autocracy * Atrocities continue in Sudan civil war

Ksenia Svetlova

Executive Director ROPES (Regional Organization For Peace, Economics & Security); Senior non-resident fellow Atlantic Council; former member of Knesset (Hatnua)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem, February 5, 2024 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem, February 5, 2024 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Egypt is threatening to recall its ambassador to Israel, has joined South Africa’s petition against Israel at the International Court of Justice Hague, and even hinted that it could withdraw from the Camp David Accords that were signed 45 years ago.

During the first few months of the war in Gaza, it seemed that Cairo, which was worried about the situation in the Strip, was seeing an opportunity for change. Egypt cooperated with Jordan and Saudi Arabia in everything to do with humanitarian aid, suppressed (as much as it could) support for Hamas in its country and refused to side with Islamist Palestinians, whom it sees as a severe existential threat, despite domestic criticism.

However, the current dead end in relations, which was caused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failing policy in which he refuses to make any decisions about Gaza’s future and Hamas’s murderous stubbornness, has brought Egypt to the edge.

The IDF operation in Rafah and its potential consequences are seen as a severe blow to Cairo’s authority and a spit in the face of Egyptian leadership, which has exhibited restraint throughout the war.

The Egyptians are extremely concerned that a judgment day scenario is nearing that includes the infiltration of hundreds of thousands of Gazans to Sinai, and in this scenario Egypt will lose — no matter how its soldiers treat the Palestinians. The extremists will accuse it of cooperating with “the Zionist enemy that’s trying to expel Palestinians from their land,” while human rights activists will attack Cairo for the violence that will no doubt occur, be recorded, and shock the world.

Netanyahu’s arrogance and lack of diplomatic channels are widening the gap between the two nations. A few months ago, it was reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi wasn’t taking Netanyahu’s calls. The situation has seemingly only worsened from there. It bears noting that even during the Second Intifada, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon met with then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to discuss a roadmap that was supposed to get Israel and the Palestinians out of the bloody conflict.

Left: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Paris, June 23, 2023; Right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Jan. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly, Pool, File; Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)

But Netanyahu is not Sharon, and he does not desire any roadmap (which exists) because that would cause him to lose his “resilience government” — a government of dangerous pyromaniacs. This despicable behavior is likely to cost Israel its relations with Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel and which has kept its conditions for 45 years despite crises, wars and intifadas.

India and Iran sign big port deal

Despite warming US-Indian ties, the country with the biggest population in the world has also been getting closer to the Islamic Republic. India signed a 10-year agreement last week with Iran to lease the port of Chabahar in the Gulf of Oman. The signing ceremony was held in Tehran, and New Delhi will invest $370 million in developing the port for the next 10 years.

This port, on the southeast coast of Iran, is important to India to advance the transport of goods to Iran, Afghanistan and central Asian countries while circumnavigating the ports of Karachi and Gwadar in Pakistan because of the problematic relations between the two nations. India started using the Iranian port in 2019 and some 8.4 tons of goods have passed through it since then.

One country that is very unhappy with this deal is the United States, which reminded India that it will not hesitate to slap secondary sanctions on New Delhi because of its export cooperation with Iran, which has already been sanctioned.

There has been no response from India for now, and it is possible New Delhi is waiting for the results of the US presidential elections in November to decide how to react. During his term, former president Donald Trump exempted India from sanctions despite its involvement in rehabilitating Afghanistan. Moreover, the personal relations between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump were particularly good. Most likely, India will continue to advance this project despite the risk of sanctions because as far as it is concerned, the port is an existential matter.

Then-Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 17, 2018. (MONEY SHARMA / AFP)

Kuwait gets off the bullet train to democratization

One bright morning, the ruler of a small and rich nation in the Persian Gulf announced that he was dismantling parliament and freezing massive parts of its constitution. The sky didn’t fall, the Earth continued to rotate around the sun, and no one was surprised. This nation is Kuwait which has for many years been considered a “democratic island” in the Middle East.

With a lively parliament, parties vying for the constituents’ votes, legislative dramas, and battles between liberals and Islamists, compared to many Arab nations, Kuwait was an outlier and even inspirational. Of course, this was corporate democracy, and the emir maintained the authority to dismantle the parliament and limit its activity.

Every time things got too heated up, he could “restart” the process, which happened a few times in Kuwait’s history in the 1970s and 1980s. And yet, the current decision to dismantle parliament is still extremely dramatic.

The ruling Sabah family decided that the democratic experiment did not fit with the challenges of the time. Important laws were stuck because of political fighting, the members of parliament were behaving aggressively and threatening stability, and Kuwait, while considered one of the richest countries in the world, was falling behind Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in economic metrics.

Kuwait has discovered that democracy is not a perfect political method that ensures freedom of speech as well as law and order and economic growth. You only need to look at what is happening in democratic nations such as the US, Israel, Spain and other countries that are rocked by political dramas and instability.

But these nations have no other choice — they are democratic and will remain so, and they will have to try to cope with the method’s challenges. Kuwait has other options like autocracy. If it works — more or less — for its neighbors, why not go back to it, especially in light of the failure of democratization in other nations in the Middle East?

Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Sabah applauds during his oath ceremony at the National Assembly in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Jaber Abdulkhaleg)

The question is how Kuwaiti society — a young society that was raised in the democratic experiment — will react to the limiting of political freedoms. Will Kuwait indeed succeed in restarting its system and transitioning from a limited democracy to an autocracy?

Civil war in Sudan is amping up

The war in Sudan isn’t ending, even if you don’t hear about it in international media. Not a day goes by in Sudan where there are no murders, abductions, horrific rapes and targeted starvation of the population. According to reports from local organizations, the warring sides are even using fire to drive away the population, maim, destroy and murder.

Sudan Witness, a Sudanese open-source project, reported last week that 72 villages and towns were destroyed or damaged in fires last month, bringing the total number of villages and towns that were targeted by fires to 201 since the beginning of the war in April of 2023.

These 201 villages and towns essentially don’t exist anymore because of the Sudanese army’s arson.

The writer, a former Zionist Union member of Knesset, is a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and executive director of ROPES.

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