Preparations are underway for an official visit to Egypt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming days, in what would be the first such trip by an Israeli leader in a decade, according to several Hebrew-language media reports.
The reported visit would include a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as part of an attempt to improve ties between the countries in light of the upcoming US presidency of Joe Biden and the Iranian threat, as well as following Israel’s recent landmark normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with the Jewish state in 1979, but it has remained a cold peace, with anti-Israeli sentiment prevalent among Egyptians and ties between the countries mostly conducted in non-public channels.
The last official visit by Netanyahu to Egypt was in January 2011, when he met then-president Hosni Mubarak, though he reportedly paid a secret, unofficial visit in 2018. An official visit had reportedly been set to go ahead in 2016 but was canceled after Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Egypt had taken action — at Israel’s request — to seal a cross-border tunnel from Gaza built by the Hamas terror group.
Last week, the Maariv newspaper cited unnamed diplomatic sources as saying Israeli and Egyptian officials were holding talks over a potential visit by Netanyahu in Cairo, with the report saying the visit would focus on improving the economic and trade ties between the countries.
On Thursday, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily reported that senior Egyptian sources, including in the country’s Foreign Ministry, had confirmed that Sissi has extended an invitation to Netanyahu and that he is set to go in the coming days.
However, the sources reportedly didn’t rule out the possibility that the visit could be postponed or scrapped altogether since it has been leaked to the media. The report noted the recent media leaks about Netanyahu’s secret visit to Saudi Arabia, which were said to have angered Riyadh.
The Israel Hayom report said the Netanyahu-Sissi talks would extend beyond economic issues and discuss strengthening the security and diplomatic ties between the countries in light of the regional threat posed by Iran and the possibility that the Biden administration will seek to sign a new deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, a scenario vehemently opposed by Netanyahu.
Cairo reportedly fears the Biden administration will be hostile to it and that a new Iran pact would cause regional instability.
The sources were quoted as saying Egypt views Israel’s new alliance with Sunni countries in the region as extremely important.
They added that the meeting would also discuss the possibility of renewing long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians and efforts to reach an arrangement regarding the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas and is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Israel and Gazan terror groups have seen regular flareups of violence over the past few years.
A senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry official told Israel Hayom that if the visit goes ahead, Sissi will personally welcome Netanyahu at the airport in an official ceremony, with Israeli and Egyptian flags placed next to each other.
The report said it wasn’t clear whether the visit would be held in Cairo or in the Sinai resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, where several high-profile meetings were held in the past.
Netanyahu secretly traveled to Egypt and met Sissi in May 2018, Channel 10 news reported at the time, accompanied by a very small team of advisers and security personnel. He was only in Cairo for a few hours, and joined Sissi in eating the iftar meal concluding the days Ramadan fast before flying back to Jerusalem, the report said, adding that most ministers in the security cabinet had not been aware of the meeting between the leaders.
Netanyahu and Sissi have held several public meetings in New York, typically on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.