Biden security adviser heads to Egypt as Israel-Hamas tensions rise

Jake Sullivan to discuss Egyptian efforts to secure cease-fire between Israel and terror group, will also seek to mend ties between Washington and Cairo strained over human rights

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON  — US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan is heading to Cairo on Wednesday for talks with Egyptian government officials about rising tensions between Israel and Hamas.

The Biden administration is leaning heavily on Egypt, which has long played a role as mediator between Israel and the Hamas terror group, for help in maintaining stability in the region even as it presses Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to stop his crackdown on dissent.

“He will also discuss Egypt’s role in promoting security and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians following the visit by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet to Egypt earlier this month,” said National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne.

Sullivan plans to follow up on the Egypt talks during a meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, next week in Washington, Horne said.

Talks with Haluta would also include “a meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group,” Horne said. The joint task force is largely focused on coordinating efforts between Washington and Jerusalem to counter Iran and its nuclear program.

Egypt brokered a cease-fire after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas erupted in May.

While the Gaza front has been largely quiet in recent weeks, last week saw one of the deadliest clashes in the West Bank in recent years, with Israeli forces killing five Hamas gunmen during raids. Two Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded.

Members of the armed wing of Hamas parade in Gaza City on June 7, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

Israeli officials told Hebrew media that the raids that targeted alleged members of a Hamas cell prevented a major terror attack reminiscent of the Second Intifada.

The cell planned to conduct a sequence of kidnappings and murders across the country, defense officials told Channel 13 news. Officials estimated to Channel 12 that the cell had also been planning a major attack in Jerusalem, similar to those seen during the violent uprising in the early 2000s, without elaborating further.

The visit to Egypt comes after the Biden administration announced earlier this month it would withhold $130 million in military aid to the country over human rights concerns.

Looming over the meeting in Cairo is the administration’s recent decision to withhold some military aid to Egypt.

Congress had passed legislation calling on the administration to withhold $300 million in military aid to Egypt. In the end, $170 million was sent along as the administration used its authority to waive human rights conditions placed on the assistance by Congress.

The Biden administration said it decided to release most of the military aid to preserve a US-Egypt security relationship that it says is critical to Mideast stability. The remaining $130 million will be released if Egypt “addresses specific human-rights related conditions,” according to the State Department.

At the same time, Biden advisers have praised Egypt for brokering the cease-fire that ended the latest Israel-Hamas war. The administration was also pleased that el-Sissi hosted Bennett in Cairo earlier this month, the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Egypt since 2007.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meet on Monday, September 13, 2021 in Sharm el-Sheikh. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Egypt is pressing the US to side with it in a dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a hydropower project on the Blue Nile that Ethiopia says is crucial for its economic development. Egypt says the dam would choke its economy and has threatened to use “all available means” to stop it.

The Blue Nile, a major tributary of the Nile River, originates in Ethiopia.

The Biden administration sees the dam dispute as potential flashpoint, but has sought to take a back seat to the African Union in finding a resolution.

Sullivan had already planned visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks focused on finding an end to war in Yemen.

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