May 30, 2024 - World

U.S., Egypt and Israel to meet to discuss Gaza border security

Palestinian truck drivers and United Nations vehicles wait near the Rafah border gate in the Gaza

Palestinian truck drivers and United Nations vehicles wait near the Rafah border gate on the Gaza side to cross into Egypt on May 14, 2024. Photo: Hani Alshaer/Anadolu via Getty Images

The White House is set to hold a trilateral meeting between U.S., Egyptian and Israeli officials in Cairo next week to discuss the reopening of the Rafah crossing and a plan for securing the border between Egypt and Gaza, three U.S. and Israeli officials said.

Why it matters: A plan for reopening the crossing, preventing Hamas from smuggling weapons into the Strip from Egypt and maintaining a tenuous peace between Israel and Egypt are top priorities for the Biden administration.

  • The administration also views Egypt as a key player in any post-war plan for the stabilization and reconstruction of Gaza.

Driving the news: A U.S. delegation headed by the senior director for the Middle East at the White House National Security Council Terry Wolff is expected to travel to Egypt in the coming days.

  • The trip was agreed on during a phone call last Friday between Biden and Egyptian president Abdul Fattah el-Sisi.
  • During the call, Sisi agreed to Biden's request to resume the flow of aid trucks into Gaza through Israel, after deliveries were halted two weeks ago in protest of Israel's takeover of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing.
  • A U.S. official said Biden told Sisi that if the delivery of aid trucks wasn't resumed, the U.S. would publicly criticize Egypt for it.
  • He promised the Egyptian president that if the flow of aid was resumed, the U.S. would work to reopen the Rafah crossing as soon as possible, the U.S. official said.

State of play: Israeli and U.S. officials say a delegation of Israeli security officials is also expected to travel to Cairo at the same time.

  • The White House wants to hold a trilateral meeting between Wolf and his delegation, representatives of the Egyptian military and intelligence service and the Israeli delegation, the officials said.
  • U.S. officials said a key issue in the talks will be a plan for how to reopen the Rafah crossing without Israeli military presence on the Palestinian side of the crossing.
  • Israel has presented Egypt with a plan for reopening the crossing with the involvement of the United Nations and Palestinian representatives from Gaza who are not connected to Hamas.
  • As part of the possible plan, the IDF would redeploy outside of the crossing and secure it from the outside against Hamas attacks.

The U.S. also wants to discuss a plan for curbing arms smuggling by building an anti-tunnel underground "wall" on the border between Egypt and Gaza, U.S. officials said.

  • A similar wall was built on the Israel-Gaza border and managed to blocked most of Hamas' attempts to dig cross-border tunnels.
  • Israeli forces have taken control in recent days of about 90% of the "Philadelfi corridor" on the border between Gaza and Egypt, located 20 tunnels that run under it and informed the Egyptian military, an IDF official said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The big picture: The U.S. wants to discuss with Egypt the possibility of forming a "transitional force" that would be in charge of security in Gaza on the day after the war, the officials said.

  • The U.S. would want Egypt to take a major role in a security force along with other Arab countries.
  • U.S. officials said there is interest among several countries in the region to be involved — under certain political conditions — in an interim Arab security force in Gaza that would secure the border, supply humanitarian aid and train a new Palestinian security force.

What they are saying: "An initial interagency delegation will travel to Egypt to follow up on the call between President Biden and President Sisi for further discussions on the Rafah border crossing and border security," a senior U.S. official said.

  • He added that a "broader and more senior delegation" will then travel to continue those discussions. "Those details are still being figured out."
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