With Israel on the verge of invading Gaza’s southernmost city, Egypt is warning that such a move could trigger a suspension of the treaty that has maintained peace between the two countries since 1979, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday directed the Israeli Defense Forces to plan the evacuation of the city of Rafah, which lies on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt and reportedly holds more than a million refugees already forced from their homes elsewhere in the 25-mile-long strip.
Therefore, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the IDF and the security establishment to submit to the Cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions.
— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) February 9, 2024
One particularly sensitive slice of real estate is the so-called Philadelphi Route or Philadelphi Corridor, which stretches nine miles along the Gaza-Egypt border. Diplomatic accords establish limits on the number of troops that either Israel or Egypt can position in several delineated zones along and near the border, and certainly don’t authorize large numbers of Israeli troops and armored vehicles.
In late December, Netanyahu said the Philadelphi Route “has to be in our hands” if Gaza is to be effectively and permanently demilitarized. In January, an Egyptian official said, “It must be strictly emphasized that any Israeli move in this direction will lead to a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations.”
While an Egyptian diplomatic delegation visited Tel Aviv on Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza,
Mexican Egyptian President Sisi has rejected several phone calls from Netanyahu over recent weeks, sources tell the Journal.
The threat that large numbers of Palestinian refugees could soon be pouring across the border raises many deep concerns for Egypt. Perhaps more than the challenge of managing a humanitarian crisis, if displaced Palestinians launch attacks on the IDF from Egypt, that could trigger Israeli retaliatory strikes across the border. If Israel doesn’t allow the Palestinians to return, tensions between Israel and Egypt would be sharply increased for years to come.
With the threat of a looming ground invasion by the Israeli occupation is in Rafah, the situation has become dire.
The lives of more than 1 million displaced Palestinians are at imminent risk of being taken. pic.twitter.com/pBTWhh35vh
— TIMES OF GAZA (@Timesofgaza) February 11, 2024
Nor does Egypt want to be seen as facilitating an ethnic cleansing of Gaza by Israel — an option that was presented by Israel’s intelligence ministry in the wake of the Oct 7 Hamas invasion of southern Israel, and embraced by various Israeli officials.
Since the war began, Egypt has been reinforcing its border with Gaza, building a concrete, barbed-wire-topped wall that extends six meters into the ground below it, while also boosting surveillance capabilities, and moving tanks and armored vehicles into the vicinity. The Israel-Hamas war is proving costly for Egypt in other ways, as Suez Canal traffic has plummeted some 30%.
Egypt’s warning comes alongside expressions of concern by a variety of countries both inside and outside of the region:
“Military operations right now would be a disaster for those people, and it’s not something that we would support,” said US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
“Invading Rafah… which is the last refuge for hundreds of thousands of civilians whom the brutal Israeli aggression displaced will have [grave] consequences,” said the Saudi foreign ministry.
“Deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah – over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area,” tweeted UK foreign secretary David Cameron.
“The people of Gaza cannot disappear into thin air…[it is a] “humanitarian catastrophe in the making,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
A Rafah invasion would create an “unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe,” said EU Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell.
Israel’s plan “threatens to cause the loss of more innocent life and exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip,” said the United Arab Emirates foreign ministry.
However, if past is prologue, watch for the Israeli government to disregard the protests of its partners and benefactors — protests that may be offered primarily for domestic consumption.