Israeli minister visits Egypt following invitation from Cairo

A senior Israeli minister has arrived in Cairo to attend an energy conference after receiving an invitation from the Egyptian government, Israel’s energy ministry has said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz arrived in Cairo late on Sunday to attend a regional forum on natural gas, which has become a major economic and strategic issue in the eastern Mediterranean.

The “development of gas fields has geopolitical and geostrategic value,” Steinitz told Israeli army radio ahead of the trip.

“Here you have for the first time real economic cooperation between the axis-of-peace states Israel, Egypt and Jordan, along with European countries.”

In recent years, ties between Egypt and Israel have gotten closer, with Cairo reaching deals with Israel over the purchase of natural gas.

Last year, Egyptian company Dolphinus inked a deal to buy $15bn worth of natural gas from the Israeli company Delek Drilling and its US partner Noble.

“Steinitz’s invitation to the conference in Egypt is the positive outcome of the gas agreement,” a source close to energy minister told the AFP news agency.

Sisi: ‘Wide range of cooperation with the Israelis’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to bolster ties with the Arab world in the face of the perceived expansion of Iranian influence across the region.

Egypt, along with Jordan, are the only Arab nations to officially recognise Israel, but relations between Israel and Gulf Arab countries have also warmed in recent months.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, like Israel, view Iran as a regional threat and have previously lobbied the US to withdraw from a multinational nuclear deal with Tehran.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, met with several Jewish groups and pro-Israel lobbies during a trip to the US last year and went so far as to declare that Israel had the right to its own land alongside Palestinians.

Meanwhile, last week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told US broadcaster CBS that his country was cooperating with Israel against armed groups in the Sinai Peninsula, a potentially damaging acknowledgement that analysts said could explain the government’s request that the network not air the interview.

In the interview, Sisi was asked if his country’s cooperation with Israel was the closest ever between the two countries. “That is correct… We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis,” he responded.

Egypt’s military was forced to deny reports last year that it and Israel were cooperating in the fight against the local chapter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in northern Sinai, a region of rugged mountains and desert bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Most Egyptians view Israel as their sworn enemy with trade unions and most political parties vehemently opposed to the “normalisation” of relations with Israel.

However, since ousting of Mohamed Morsi – Egypt’s first democratically elected president, in a coup in 2013, Sisi has met at least twice with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, Netanyahu secretly flew to Cairo last year to discuss the countries’ plans for the Gaza Strip.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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