CAIRO, Egypt — Israel’s Embassy in Egypt celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Jewish state’s founding on Tuesday in Cairo, the first such event since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and a sign of improving ties between the two countries.
The party at the Nile Ritz Carlton was a step up for diplomacy in the Arab world’s most populous country, where relations with Israel have deepened under the rule of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who came to power after overthrowing his Islamist predecessor in 2013. The event was attended mostly by foreign diplomats, with only a few Egyptians.
The celebration raised eyebrows in the Egyptian media, traditionally a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment, and one state-owned publication even published an anti-Semitic cartoon.
Some commentators voiced opposition to the event, especially in light of the recent violence at the Israel-Gaza border. Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the border fence, infiltrate Israel and attempt to carry out attacks. It has accused the Hamas terror group that rules the Strip of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of the large protests, while Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
In a speech at the event, Israeli Ambassador David Govrin welcomed the Arab world’s recent warming toward Israel, led mostly by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also took a few shots at Israel’s nemesis Iran.
“The joining of the Saudi Crown Prince to the vision of stability and economic development shared by Egypt and Israel constitutes an important cornerstone. We have to broaden this partnership to additional states in order to advance common interests and in order to combat states and terror organizations, that are acting under Iran’s inspiration,” he said.
“Only a regional common struggle may confront Iran’s striving for nuclear weapons and undermine its consistent support to the terror organizations in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.”
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, in 1979, but relations have always been frosty due to popular Egyptian support for Palestinians. Economic ties between the two countries have recently thawed with a $15 billion deal for Israeli natural gas to be supplied to Egypt.
Sissi publicly supports the deal, saying it brought big advantages to Egypt and will help turn the country into a regional energy hub.
Israel closed its Cairo embassy in 2011 after crowds stormed the building, but it reopened in 2015 at a more secure facility.
In recent years the two countries have enjoyed closer intelligence and security ties over their shared enmity toward Islamist terror groups and other common regional concerns.
Official relations have remained complicated, however, and Israel is deeply unpopular with the Egyptian public.
In November, Cairo’s Ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat said the peace treaty between the nations will remains incomplete as long as a Palestinian state has not been created.
That same month Egyptian officials declined an Israeli invitation to a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel in 1977, which paved the way for the peace treaty.
The celebrations Tuesday night were catered by celebrity chef Shaul Ben Aderet, who was visiting Egypt for the first time and said he had received a warm welcome.
“I’m happy to see that the relationship between Egypt and Israel is OK. I was afraid before I came here, but when I did I found them friendly and the team of chefs were very good.”