Israel scales back travel advisory for Sinai as Bennett invited to Cairo

National Security Council changes warning level for southern peninsula — home to popular resorts — from highest possible alert to ‘basic concrete threat’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

New Moon Camp near Ras Sheitan in the Sinai Peninsula on April 4, 2021. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
New Moon Camp near Ras Sheitan in the Sinai Peninsula on April 4, 2021. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Israel’s National Security Council scaled back its travel warning for parts of the Sinai Peninsula for the first time in years Wednesday, hours after Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel visited Israel for high-level talks on Gaza.

For the past several years, the entire Sinai Peninsula has had the highest possible travel warning, Level 1, a “very high concrete threat,” due to the presence of the Islamic State and other terror groups in the area, particularly in the northern parts of the peninsula. Under this warning, the National Security Council recommended Israelis refrain from traveling to Sinai and for those already there to return immediately.

This designation has long been a source of annoyance for the thousands of Israeli tourists making trips to the peninsula’s picturesque beaches and resorts along its comparatively peaceful southern coast. This has also been a source of contention with Egypt, which sees Sinai as a significant source of tourism income.

On Wednesday night, the NSC recognized this distinction and changed its warning for the southern Sinai Peninsula to Level 3, a “basic concrete threat.” Israelis were still “recommended to not visit,” but they were no longer instructed to leave.

The NSC said the change was made ahead of Bennett’s meeting with Kamel on Wednesday, though it was only announced Wednesday night. “During [the meeting], the prime minister informed him of the decision,” it said in a statement.

At the meeting, Kamel extended to Bennett an invitation from Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to visit Cairo in what would be the first trip by an Israeli premier to Egypt since 2011.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with Abbas Kamel, the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, in Jerusalem on August 18, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Travel warnings to Sinai have existed for many years. The peninsula was once seen as dangerous due to its porous border with the Gaza Strip, and fears Palestinian terrorists could smuggle through the border and target Israeli tourists. In recent years, the border with Gaza has become better controlled, with Egyptian forces finding and destroying smuggling tunnels and exerting far better control over the frontier.

At the same time, however, an Islamic State insurgency has taken root in the northern Sinai Peninsula and has carried out numerous deadly attacks on Egyptian soldiers. The area has also been the target of several major terror attacks that have killed over 100 foreign nationals, including Israelis, in recent decades.

However, the southern peninsula, specifically the eastern coast, has generally not seen this violence.

Tal Schneider contributed to this report.

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