Future scenarios of Egypt towards the Rafah crossing and the threats by the U.S. and Israel

There are many reasons behind the Egyptian stance of closing the Rafah crossing, due to it is threatened by the United States and Israel. Because The only Egyptian fear of constantly opening the Rafah border crossing with the Palestinian Gaza Strip is the Egyptian fear of (a possible mass exodus to Sinai from the Palestinian Gaza Strip). The length of the border strip between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is 12 kilometers, with one main gate, the Rafah land crossing, through which thousands of Palestinians enter every month for treatment or study.

The Egyptian authorities and President “El-Sisi” do not agree to any plan to carry out a large-scale resettlement of Palestinians in Sinai. Egypt does not have camps, camps, or areas that can accommodate these large numbers, and therefore the Egyptian role is currently focused on pressuring to bring the necessary aid into the Strip.

 On the other hand, the entry of some Palestinians into Egypt is possible, which explains why the Egyptian army has placed cement barriers over the past few days around the (Rafah crossing to control the numbers of those entering). Here Egypt has 3 scenarios, as follows:

The first option for Cairo, is that the pressures for aid to enter the Gaza Strip is the most prominent option, as Israel will sooner or later agree to this demand, because it is exposed, on the other hand, to continuous demands from major countries such as the United States and France, to expel their citizens through the Egyptian Rafah crossing.

The second option for Cairo, is that, Egypt has designated (Al-Arish Airport) a focal point for aid coming from outside the country, and the airport has already received aid shipments coming from Turkey, Jordan, the World Health Organization and others, waiting to be brought into Gaza.

The third option for Cairo is (to prepare well for the scenario of large numbers of Palestinians entering Rafah), and we see that the challenge in this option will not be to enter Palestinians with identification papers and visas through the Rafah crossing, but with those who may cross the border strip directly, away from security scrutiny. This is a position that Egypt will not accept, which has spent years launching successive military operations against the “Sinai Province” militants affiliated with the so-called “Islamic State” organization”, to expel them from this region, and therefore it will not tolerate a scenario that might allow extremist elements to arrive again to Sinai.

  Egypt still fears a repeat of the scenario of 2008, when gunmen from Gaza blew up part of its border wall, and tens of thousands of Palestinians flocked to the cities of (Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai), to buy foodstuffs such as milk and sugar after Israel imposed a strict siege on the Strip.

 Whereas what Israel is trying to do now is to create a sterilized area north of the Gaza Strip on the border with it, meaning evacuating it of the Palestinian presence, so that the Israeli army can enter it, and Israel decides after that the following steps, such as:

  • How this area will be managed?
  • Will it be under the administration of the Israeli government?
  •  Or will it submit to the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas?
  •  Or will an international force be concentrated there?
  • This is a question that Israel is currently discussing the answer to with all parties, according to my understanding as well.

  Therefore, the Israeli army is pushing the Palestinians to the south of the Gaza Strip, near the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which puts pressure on Egypt, and what the Egyptian authorities there, in Jordan, and in other countries considered “an export of the crisis to neighboring countries”.

  The Egyptian position has developed significantly since the beginning of the recent military escalation between Israel and Hamas, starting with its announcement of intensive contacts with both sides for a ceasefire, and its call for everyone to exercise restraint, all the way to preventing the exit of foreigners from the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, if Israel does not allow aid to enter to the sector, through repeated statements, that its sovereignty is not violated and its national security is a priority.

  The Egyptian role focuses on alleviating the burden on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip by continuing to open the Rafah land crossing to relieve the suffering of the brothers in Gaza, in addition to rebuilding the Gaza Strip after the devastation caused by the Israeli aggression on Gaza in May 2021 and after the operation of  “Al-Aqsa Flood” in October 2023, and the Egyptian engineering teams succeeded before in completing a large part of  Projects launched by Egypt inside Gaza.

 On October 7, 2023, Cairo issued its first statement hours after the start of Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood” launched by Hamas, and Israel responded by launching an operation it called “Iron Swords”. In this statement, Egypt warned of the “serious dangers” of escalating violence, and called on international actors to intervene to reach a truce.

 Thereafter, official Egyptian statements followed, addressing contacts conducted by President “Abdel Fattah El-Sisi” and his Foreign Minister “Sameh Shoukry” with leaders and officials from several countries, to push for an immediate ceasefire.

 The Egyptian role began to take a more influential turn, with the North Sinai Governorate announcing that its hospitals had increased their readiness to receive any infection cases arriving from the Gaza Strip through the “Rafah Crossing”.

 Cairo’s tone appeared sharp, after an Israeli army spokesman called on the civilian residents of Gaza to go to Egypt if they wanted to avoid Israeli air strikes, which was later denied by another Israeli army spokesman and the Israeli ambassador in Cairo. Here, the Egyptian president “El-Sisi” came out to confirm that his country would not  It allows the Palestinian cause to be liquidated, and it will also not compromise in protecting its national security.

 As the days passed, aid convoys began to accumulate in the city of Al-Arish in North Sinai, adjacent to the “Rafah crossing”, waiting to enter Gaza, but the repeated Israeli bombing on the Palestinian side of the crossing prevented them from crossing. 

  Here, senior Egyptian officials confirmed that “Cairo stipulated facilitating the safe arrival of aid to the Gaza Strip, in exchange for allowing the passage of foreign nationals through Rafah”.

 The Egyptian position is consistent in its general context, that is, emphasizing the decision for a two-state solution, bringing in aid for civilians, and opening crossings for the injured, which is what Cairo has been calling for years.

 But Egypt’s position is also flexible, and develops with changing events, and this explains why the exit of foreigners is linked to the entry of aid.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit