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Paul McLoughlin

Sisi scores 'own goal' praising Israel gas deal

Sisi says buying gas from Israel will profit Egyptians [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 February, 2018

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President Sisi has claimed Egypt 'scored a goal' with a deal to pay $15 billion to Israel for gas, but not everyone agrees the goal was in the right end.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi claims a controversial gas deal with neighbour Israel will turn Egypt into a regional energy powerhouse, bringing benefits for millions in the country.

Speaking on television on Wednesday, Sisi declared Cairo had "scored a goal" with the $15 billion agreement with Delek Energy which will see Israel supply natural gas from Mediterranean gas fields to Egypt - if secure supply lines can be built across the restive Sinai peninsula, or through Jordan, and if previous contractual obligations can be resolved.

Cairo hopes that processing, liquefying and re-exporting the gas will bring huge financial returns for the country.

"[It] has a lot of advantages for us [Egyptians]. And I want people to be reassured," Sisi told the nation.

Commentators interpreted the speech as an attempt by Sisi to take credit for the gas deal, and to circumvent political criticism ahead of a presidential election many see as a one-horse race.

Analysts expect Cairo to use its existing infrastructure on its Mediterranean coast to process and export the natural gas to Europe, potentially making Egypt a major player in the energy market. But the method of importing the unprocessed gas remains unclear.

"By taking this decision, we scored a big goal," Sisi promised. 

Bad blood

But most Egyptians have not forgotten the bad blood between the two countries and Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land.

Some have come out and said Sisi scored an "own goal" with the deal.

"Sisi called the Israel gas deal 'a goal for Egypt'. Some would argue that the phrase 'with friends like you who needs enemies' comes to mind here," wrote Egyptian political analyst Amr Khalifa on Twitter.

"Sisi sold the gas... you can expect anything from the one who sells his own land. That's the state of Egypt in the time of the military," said @bent_alThawra on Twitter.
But with most government critics exiled or imprisoned, Sisi will likely be confident to push through the controversial deal. 
Translation: "Egypt signs historic gas deal worth 15 billion
with Israeli gas company #no to normalisation

It will not only be a boost for Sisi but also embattled Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Nenanyahu, dogged by corruption allegations and criticism over his handling of the Syria war.

"This is a joyous day," Netanyahu said on Monday when the deal was agreed, sending Israeli energy stocks soaring to their highest levels in nine years.

The deal also underscores the cooperation - both open and covert - between Israel and the Egyptian state under Sisi.

Troubled region

Attacks on gas pipelines to Jordan and Israel in the Sinai forced Egypt to end exports to the two countries in the years that followed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

EMG, the operator of the pipeline that once delivered gas from Egypt to Israel, is still seeking damages from Cairo - and Egypt's petroleum minister, Tarek El-Molla, has admitted that commercial dispute must be resolved through arbitration before the new deal can be agreed.

The militants on the Sinai turned their weapons on Egyptian security forces amid Cairo's brutal and clumsy crackdown on armed groups and an attempt to cut smuggling routes between the Sinai and Hamas-held Gaza.

A radical element in the tribal insurgency has since allied to the Islamic State group, attacking Egyptian troops, Christians and Sufis in the peninsula.

This has brought Israel into the picture, with Tel Aviv reportedly assisting Egypt with airstrikes on militant targets in the Sinai.

Cairo also mobilised its army in the Sinai earlier this month, weeks before elections in Egypt are due to take place and which will almost certainly see Sisi elected once again, with all meaningful opposition detained or dissuaded from standing. 

Military action in the Sinai was once a sensitive issue due to the peninsular bordering Israel. 

Warm personal relations between Sisi and Netanyahu - and alleged cooperation between Egypt and Israel's militaries - has seen an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two countries.

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