Photo Credit: Israeli Intelligence Ministry.
Egyptian and Israeli officials attend an economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in March 2021.

Some 60 Israeli and Egyptian officials and businesspeople recently took part in the largest bilateral meeting held between the two countries in the last 20 years. The meeting, held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, was aimed at expanding economic cooperation beyond textile manufacturing and natural gas, the latter of which Jerusalem began to export to Cairo in 2020.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen headed the Israeli delegation to the conference, which received little press coverage, at the request of the Egyptians. Delegates included representatives from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, National Security Council, and Water Resources Ministry Director-General Yechezkel Lifshitz.

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Cohen held a lengthy meeting with Egypt’s Deputy Intelligence Minister Nasser Fahmi to discuss future plans for their economies and security issues. According to Fahmi, “Egypt is interested in promoting cooperation with Israel in all fields. We will continue to act to bolster economic and bilateral ties in the future.”

Fahmi spoke to Cohen about the security system in place around Sharm el-Sheikh, which includes a 43-kilometer-long fence that was completed in 2020. “To date, tourists from all over Europe are coming there after security figures from those countries defined Sharm el-Sheikh as a safe place,” Intelligence Ministry officials said.

In addition, the two spoke about the joint fight against radical Islamic terror, in particular in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as securing freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.

According to Cohen, Sharm el-Sheikh is a safe and secure island inside the Sinai Peninsula, and the Egyptians are doing everything they can to bring Israeli tourists back.

“I’m coming back to Israel to work with intelligence and security officials, so that we can exclude Sharm el-Sheikh from the existing alerts on the Sinai and return once again to Sharm el-Sheikh,” he said.

The meeting was made possible as a result of ongoing covert (and overt) talks between Cairo and Jerusalem. According to Cohen, the meeting and the processes that follow will bring bilateral trade back to previous highs of more than $1 billion annually.

Delegation members also met with the heads of Egyptian companies, with the aim of opening up Egypt’s market to cooperation with Israel in the fields of agriculture, desalination, power stations, textile, construction materials, food, fish ponds and tourism.

Up until 2020, economic cooperation between Israel and Egypt focused mainly on textiles, construction and agriculture. In 2018, income generated from cooperation reached around $1.3 billion, although it has since decreased.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.