Leaders of Egypt and Israel hold rare public meeting

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister in 11 years to pay an official visit to an Egyptian president on Monday, meeting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the coastal resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Why it matters: This was an effort by Sisi to establish good relations with the new Israeli government, and the Egyptians made every effort to give Bennett an unusually warm and public welcome.

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Behind the scenes: In an unusual gesture, Bennett was welcomed on the tarmac by the Egyptian foreign minister and the Egyptian director of intelligence.

  • Sisi and Bennett met one-on-one for three hours, followed by an expanded meeting with their aides.

  • When Bennett and his advisers arrived at the presidential compound for the meeting, they were surprised to see the Israeli flag next to the Egyptian flag.

  • Flashback: When former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met publicly with Sisi at the UN and with his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, there was no Israeli flag in the room.

Between the lines: Israel officials speculate that by inviting Bennett publicly so early in his term, Sisi's government is trying to signal to the Biden administration Egypt's importance in the region.

  • Once Bennett landed in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian presidency issued a statement celebrating the visit, and shortly afterward released photos. A video from the meeting aired on state TV.

  • Planning for the visit was underway for several weeks, but the exact date and time were kept secret for security and political reasons.

Driving the news: The main issue discussed in the meeting was the situation in the Gaza Strip.

  • Sisi told Bennett the calm in Gaza must be maintained and that the international community needs to support Egypt’s reconstruction efforts in Gaza, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.

  • Bennett told Sisi that Egypt has to strengthen inspections at the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza in order to prevent the smuggling of dual-use materials that can allow Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities, an Israeli official said.

  • The Israeli official added that the two leaders discussed Iran and the nuclear deal, Turkish involvement in Libya, the crisis between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and countering ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.

“We created infrastructure for a deeper relationship along the way. Israel is reopening to the countries of the region, and the basis for this is the peace agreement with Egypt," Bennett said in a statement at the end of the visit.

What’s next: Egypt is in the midst of diplomatic efforts to try to stabilize the situation in Gaza and prevent a new escalation. The Egyptians are pressing Hamas to refrain from attacks on Israel and for Israel to take further steps to improve the situation in Gaza.

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