In Egypt, Lapid and Sissi discuss Iran nuclear threat, Hamas

Foreign minister presents two-stage economic plan for Gaza with Egypt’s president; looks to expand security, economic ties

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sits with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sits with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met on Thursday with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, where the two discussed the Iranian threat, and Israel’s attempts to reach an agreement with the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

On Iran, Lapid and Sissi spoke about Tehran’s nuclear program and the threat to regional stability posed by its support for armed proxy groups, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Lapid also presented his vision for Gaza, which would offer economic incentives in return for an end to Hamas attacks, and discussed the issue of the Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers being held in the Strip.

The Foreign Minister originally announced his two-stage plan for Gaza in September. The first stage would entail rehabilitating infrastructure in the Strip in exchange for tight international oversight — as well as quiet from Hamas. In the second stage of Lapid’s plan, the two sides would see the realization of more ambitious projects. An artificial island would be built off the coast of the enclave — a long-proposed plan to see a port built in Gaza — and the West Bank and Gaza would be linked by infrastructure projects.

Sissi hosted Lapid at the Al-Ittihadiya Palace in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo, the official office of Egypt’s president.

Sissi and Lapid also discussed combating terror, and measures taken by Israel to strengthen the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid lands in Cairo ahead of his meetings with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

The two men also discussed bilateral relations and the desire to expand economic, energy, agricultural, and trade cooperation.

Israel has long been a partner for Egypt in combating jihadist terrorist groups in the Sinai Peninsula, including a local affiliate of the Islamic State. Sinai terrorists have targeted Israeli soldiers and civilians, including a series of deadly incidents in 2011-2012.

“Egypt is an especially important strategic partner for Israel,” Lapid said in a statement after the meeting. “My goal is to strengthen our security, diplomatic, and economic ties with Egypt. It is important to continue to work on the peace between the two nations. I thank President Sissi, whose contribution to the region and to the ties between us are of historic proportions, for the hospitality, and for the warm and open meeting.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid chats with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

After sitting down with Sissi, Lapid held a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The meetings are the latest in a series of high-level contacts between Israel and its southern neighbor.

Lapid was welcomed at the airport by Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nabil Habashi.

Lapid presented Sissi with stolen Egyptian artifacts that were smuggled to Israel and were held by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Eli Escozido, director of the IAA, joined Lapid for the visit.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sits with Egyptian’s Deputy Foreign Ministry Nabil Habashi in Cairo ahead of his meetings with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

“From a political-security perspective the strengthening of Israel-Egypt relations is a very important interest for the State of Israel,” Lapid’s office said in a statement before the meeting. “The minister’s visit is a direct continuation of the Israeli government’s foreign policy to use common interests as leverage for regional stability.”

Lapid previously met with Shoukry in July, when the two men were in Brussels for an EU conference.

Lapid’s visit to Egypt follows Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh with Sissi in September, the first such summit between Israeli and Egyptian leaders in more than a decade.

Last month, the new head of the Shin Bet security service and Bennett’s national security adviser reportedly traveled to Egypt for talks on Gaza.

Israel and the Hamas terror group have been holding indirect negotiations, moderated by Egypt, on stabilizing the fragile ceasefire since the 11-day battle between the two sides in May.

Israel has vowed not to allow a full reconstruction of Gaza without a prisoner swap between the two sides.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash 90/Courtesy)

Two Israeli civilians are being held in Gaza. Avraham Avera Mengistu and Hisham a-Sayed entered the Strip of their own accord, and their families say they suffer from mental illness. Hamas is also holding the bodies of Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers who were killed in the Strip during the 2014 Gaza war.

Israel has, over the years, worked to secure the release of the civilians and the soldiers’ bodies, often using the Egyptian military, which maintains ties with both Jerusalem and Hamas, as an intermediary.

Hamas has sought, in exchange, the release of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails — members of Hamas and of other terror groups.

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