Cairo sees Israel as being led by ‘2 governments,’ Egypt official reportedly says

Source says ties steady despite censure of Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit; notes Cairo distinguishes between ‘far-right government’ and international-facing Netanyahu-led leadership

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with the head of the Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben Gvir in the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with the head of the Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben Gvir in the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Despite Egypt’s condemnation of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount last week, relations between the neighboring countries are continuing without “major tension,” an unnamed Egyptian official was quoted as saying Monday.

The official also reportedly told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat news outlet that his country views Israel as being led by “two governments” — an extremist one at home and a more moderate one representing Israel in its relations abroad.

Ben Gvir toured the flashpoint site, which is revered by both Jews and Muslims and is a central focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, last week. His move was met with an international outcry.

Relations between Jerusalem and Cairo regarding the Palestinian issue will be affected by the matter, the unnamed source said, but “without this meaning major tension or difficulties in bilateral relations.”

The report repeated earlier claims that Netanyahu had given his blessing to Ben Gvir’s actions despite having earlier promised Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi he would “maintain the calm” and prevent the far-right minister from visiting.

Egypt regularly mediates between Israel and Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and shares a border with Egypt.

The source explained that Netanyahu, mindful of Egypt’s crucial role in moderating relations between Israel and the Palestinians, would work to “avoid provoking” Cairo.

The unnamed Egyptian source claimed that Cairo viewed the new government in Jerusalem as two separate entities: “The first government is led by the far-right, and the second government presents itself to the world as being led by Netanyahu.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi delivers his speech during celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, November 12, 2021. (Julien de Rosa, Pool Photo via AP)

He said Ben Gvir’s actions were “an attempt by the far-right to test the waters for the implementation of its plans towards all Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, to which Egypt responded quickly and decisively through its Foreign Ministry statement.”

Following the incident, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said: “Egypt deplores the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque by an Israeli official” and warned of “negative repercussions” to security and stability in the region.

On Sunday, a report in the Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper said there was “resentment” and “embarrassment” in the Sissi’s office due to Netanyahu’s decision to allow Ben Gvir to visit the flashpoint site.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

Both outlets reported that a series of Israeli sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, approved last week, would constitute another strain on relations.

The sanctions, which include seizing $40 million in tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA and channeling them to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism, came in response to Ramallah’s successful initiative at the United Nations to have the International Court of Justice draft a legal opinion on Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement in 1979 but relations have been mostly frosty, though the government has maintained close security ties in recent years. The countries share security interests in the Gaza Strip as well as in Sinai and the eastern Mediterranean, but most Egyptians reject ties with Israel.

Cairo, like Jerusalem, sees Gaza’s Hamas rulers as a serious threat and has restricted crossings to and from the enclave.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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