May 28, 2024 | Policy Brief

Under Pressure From Washington, Cairo Resumes Aid to Gaza

May 28, 2024 | Policy Brief

Under Pressure From Washington, Cairo Resumes Aid to Gaza

Egypt resumed providing humanitarian aid to Gaza on May 26 after more than two weeks of withholding it. With food insecurity in Gaza a major challenge, the Egyptian blockade exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Cairo said it blocked aid because the Israeli military was operating on the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing, which straddles Egypt and Gaza at the southern end of the enclave. Cairo claimed that Israel’s conduct constituted an assault on Egyptian sovereignty and threatened to downgrade Egypt’s diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Israel is operating in the city of Rafah to close dozens of smuggling and terror tunnels that stretch under the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Israel also seeks to destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in the city. In May thus far, Hamas terrorists have fired several barrages of rockets at Israel from Rafah. A rocket onslaught killed four Israeli soldiers stationed at the Kerem Shalom crossing on May 5.

Cairo also feared that the Israeli operation in Rafah could lead Gazan refugees to flee to Egypt, thereby enabling extremist elements to enter the country amid the larger flow of evacuees. This could pose a security risk to Egypt. Cairo has long fought domestic Islamist terrorists and is reluctant to open its doors to refugees who might be affiliated with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any of the many terror groups that have thrived in Gaza under Hamas’s 17-year rule.

Likewise, Egypt is concerned that any entry of Gazans would reduce pressure on the international community to advance the Palestinian national cause.

But Rafah is not the only humanitarian corridor. The United States has pressed Cairo to transfer aid to Israel through the nearby Nitzana crossing, which links Egypt and Israel. Israel could then transfer the aid to Gaza. But for more than two weeks, Cairo would not budge.

A UN official lamented on May 20 that 82,000 tons of aid piled up on the Egyptian side of the crossing, causing food to spoil and medicine to expire.

A senior Biden administration official spoke to The Times of Israel on May 21 about Cairo’s policy. “We do not believe that aid should be held back for any reason whatsoever,” the official said. “Kerem Shalom is open. The Israelis have it open. And that aid should be going through Kerem Shalom.”

In a May 24 call with U.S. President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi agreed to allow humanitarian aid to resume flowing through the Kerem Shalom crossing to Israel. Biden said he would support negotiations between Cairo and Jerusalem aimed at reopening the Rafah crossing. Aid from Egypt finally arrived in Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing on May 26.

However, relations between Cairo and Jerusalem remain tense. On May 27, an exchange of fire between Israeli and Egyptian soldiers near the Rafah border left one Egyptian soldier dead. Cairo and Jerusalem are reportedly investigating the event.

Under U.S. law, Washington can withhold military assistance to any country that is preventing or hampering the delivery of American humanitarian aid. Biden should remind Sisi that Cairo must continue the flow of aid to Gaza and uphold its longstanding peace treaty with Israel — or else jeopardize the more than $1 billion in annual U.S. military assistance to Egypt. After years of contributing to the problem in Gaza, Sisi must now work with Washington and Jerusalem to become part of the solution.

Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For more analysis from Enia and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Enia on X @EKrivine. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Issues:

Arab Politics Egypt Israel Israel at War