Bennett set to meet Egypt president in Sinai, in first such visit in decade

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Sharm el Sheikh — on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula — on Monday, the Egyptian presidency confirmed.

The Monday meeting will mark the first public visit of an Israeli premier to Egypt in more than a decade, since former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

A spokesman for the Egyptian presidency said the two leaders will “discuss bilateral issues related to bilateral relations, ways and efforts to revive the peace process as well as recent developments in the region and international arenas.”

An El Al flight purportedly carrying the prime minister departed from Tel Aviv to Sharm el Sheikh early Monday afternoon. Bennett is expected to return home to Israel later on Monday.

Bennett was invited to visit Egypt and meet with Sissi last month, during a meeting he held with Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem. The prime minister said last month that he had accepted the invitation, and would soon visit in order “to strengthen and expand relations between the countries in the region.”

Bennett’s visit to Egypt comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, with three rocket attacks in as many days drawing retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

Egypt in recent months has tried to more publicly play the role of responsible, effective broker between Israel and Hamas. Cairo played a central role in negotiating the ceasefire that ended the May Israel-Gaza war after 11 days and has worked since to advance a long-term ceasefire as well as a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is seated for a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Heliopolis Presidential Palace, May 26, 2021, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Earlier this month, the London-based Rai al-Youm online newspaper reported that Sissi was also leading a push to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The report, which said Egypt was set to host Israeli, Palestinian, American, European and Arab officials to discuss the proposal, came days after Sissi hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II for talks.

Shortly before news of Bennett’s trip was revealed, Israel announced it was lifting COVID restrictions on the travel of Israelis to the Sinai Peninsula, a popular tourism destination. During Kamel’s visit to Israel last month, the National Security Council announced it had scaled back its security travel advisory for the Sinai for the first time in years.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with Abbas Kamel, the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, in Jerusalem on August 18, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Meanwhile, EgyptAir, the national airline of Egypt, is scheduled to launch direct Tel Aviv-Cairo flights next month, after years of hiding the flights — mandated by Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt — through a subsidiary.

Though he didn’t make a public trip to Egypt in a decade, Bennett’s predecessor Netanyahu and Sissi held several public meetings in New York, typically on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The former Israeli prime minister was also reported to have paid a secret, unofficial visit to Egypt in 2018.

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