Report: Sissi irate after Netanyahu fails to prevent Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit

Arab newspaper describes ‘resentment’ and ’embarrassment’ in Egyptian leadership; says incident may compromise attempts to mediate potential prisoner swap with Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (right) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2018. (Avi Ohayon / PMO)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (right) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2018. (Avi Ohayon / PMO)

Actions by Israel’s new hardline government over the past week have complicated Jerusalem’s ties with Cairo, according to a Sunday report.

The Arabic-language London-based newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem, as well as sanctions imposed on Palestinian leadership, have incensed Cairo and “have made it difficult for Egypt to mediate” a potential prisoner swap deal with the Gaza-based Hamas terror group.

Hamas currently holds two Israelis — Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu — along with the bodies of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

Years-long efforts to secure their return have thus far produced no results, and no progress was apparent even before the formation of the current government.

Citing Arab diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter, the report said Egypt’s mediation efforts “have been affected by the formation of the most extremist government in Israel’s history.”

The report said “the failure of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s attempts to rein in [Ben Gvir]” was especially problematic for the Egyptian leadership.

It described a sense of “resentment” and “embarrassment” in the office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi due to Netanyahu’s decision to allow Ben Gvir to visit the flashpoint site, days after Sissi spoke with Netanyahu on the phone, congratulated him on returning as premier and pressed him to prevent the planned visit, which the report described as “the storming of Al-Aqsa.”

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

During their conversation last month, Sissi stressed “the necessity of avoiding any measures that could lead to a tense situation and complicate the regional scene.”

The report said Netanyahu had promised during the call to “maintain the calm” and to prevent Ben Gvir’s visit. After Egypt expressed discontent with the fact that the visit ultimately went ahead on Tuesday, Israel reportedly said this was due to considerations of preserving the coalition, and that Netanyahu remains committed to maintaining its close ties with the Egyptian leadership.

The report also cited a series of Israeli sanctions against the Palestinian Authority approved Friday as another strain on relations.

The sanctions, which include seizing 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 Palestinian territories.

Illustrative: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 23, 2022. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement in 1979 but relations have been mostly frosty, though the government have 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.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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