May 1, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Kuwait Emir visits Egypt, meets with leaders over Rafah concerns

Cairo and Kuwait City meet to discuss humanitarian crisis in Gaza and necessity of ensuring peace in region.
May 1, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Kuwait Emir visits Egypt, meets with leaders over Rafah concerns

Cairo and Kuwait City meet to discuss humanitarian crisis in Gaza and necessity of ensuring peace in region.

Sheikh Meshaal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, visited Cairo on Tuesday to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to discuss their concerns about Israel’s pending invasion of Rafah and the Houthi threat to Red Sea shipping.

Egypt and Kuwait have positive ties and relations and an estimated 700,000 Egyptians live in the tiny oil-rich kingdom, the UAE-based Al-Ain media reports. Around 20,000 Kuwaitis study and live in Egypt.

Egypt and Kuwait are both worried about the consequences of a potential Israeli offensive into the Hamas-controlled southern Gaza city on the Egyptian border.

Kuwait generally has more hostile views of Israel than other Gulf states, whereas Egypt has a peace treaty with the Jewish state. The two countries say they are worried about the “dire humanitarian consequences if Israel launches an attack on the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip,” Al-Ain’s report says.

Concern over humanitarian situation in Gaza

On Al-Sabah’s first official visit to Egypt as emir, the two countries issued a call for a ceasefire. These kinds of calls are pro forma, a ritual in these kinds of state visits. The call for a ceasefire included calls for “facilitating safe, adequate and sustainable access for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in the occupied territory and implementing relevant Security Council resolutions.”

The countries discussed other issues as well. “In the final statement, the two sides stressed the necessity of establishing an international mechanism within the Gaza Strip to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into the Strip, stressing their rejection of Israel’s continuation of its military operations,”  the report said.

Humanitarian aid to Gaza is increasing via numerous new channels:  air drops, aid from Jordan and Egypt, support from the Gulf, France and other countries via El-Arish in Egypt and also via Jordan. There is a new maritime corridor from Cyprus to Ashdod, a new northern entrance to the Gaza strip, and the US is building a floating pier off the coast of Gaza. Hundreds of trucks cross into Gaza daily.

However, there is concern that an IDF operation in Rafah might disrupt some of this aid and also cause many Gazans to flee Rafah, an area they fled to from the north after Israel responded to the Hamas massacre on October 7.

Egypt and Kuwait said they were concerned that an operation in Rafah might expand the conflict and risk stability in the region. “The two sides appreciated the close coordination on regional and international issues of common interest, and stressed the need to give priority to the culture of peace, dialogue, and diplomatic settlement of disputes and differences in the Middle East region, in order to achieve development and peaceful coexistence among its countries, in a manner consistent with the values of tolerance, respect for the sovereignty of states over their territories, and non-interference in their affairs,” Al-Ain reported. Once again, this is a boilerplate statement and very common for these types of meetings.

Reference to Houthi attacks

More significantly, the two sides “stressed the importance of the security and stability of navigation in the region’s waterways in accordance with the provisions of international law and international conventions, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, in order to guarantee the freedom and smoothness of navigation and provide security and stability therein.”

This is a clear reference to the Iran-backed Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, attacks that specifically harm Egypt’s economy by reducing passage of ships though the Suez Canal.

Egypt appears to be upping its rhetoric in this regard. Kuwait knows well the importance of free navigation of the seas because Iran,its large neighbor, has threatened Gulf shipping.

During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s tankers had to be re-flagged during the so-called “Tanker war” when Iran and Iraq attacked commercial vessels.

The US intervened then to protect Kuwaiti tankers in 1986 and  carried out operations against Iran. Later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, drawing the US into the Gulf war. That war set the scene for the modern Middle East as we know it.

For instance, the Scud missile threat to Israel led to the deployment of Patriot missiles in Israel. Palestinians, who backed Saddam’s invasion, were expelled from Kuwait after it was liberated.

Osama Bin Laden claimed to be enraged about US forces stationed in Saudi Arabia and put him on the road to 9/11.

Egypt under then president Hosni Mubarak had attempted to mediate the Gulf crisis in 1990 prior to Saddam’s invasion but after a meeting in Jeddah in which Egypt sought to broker peace via the Arab League, Egypt joined the coalition to expel Saddam who betrayed him.

“Relations between Kuwait and Egypt go back to before Kuwait’s independence in 1961, as the two countries used to coordinate their positions at the international and regional levels,” Al-Ain media noted. The report also noted that Kuwait sent a third of its army to support Egypt and Syria in the 1973 war against Israel. 

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Arab Politics Egypt Gulf States Israel Israel at War