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Reading into the Rafah Crossing incident

May 29, 2024 at 6:30 pm

Family, friends and loved ones of Egyptian soldier Abdullah Ramadan Ashri Qutb Haji, who was killed in a clash between Israeli and Egyptian soldiers near the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, attend his funeral ceremony in the village of Al Ajamiyyin in Faiyum, Egypt on May 28, 2024 [Mohamed Elshahed – Anadolu Agency]

After the breaking news spread of a clash between the Egyptian army and an Occupation army force at the Rafah border crossing, the details of the news became conflicting. The Egyptian press narrative – because as of writing this article, no official narrative has been issued – maintained that a shooting incident had occurred at the border; then it quoted the Egyptian and Israeli armies confirming that the incident occurred, describing it as rare. The newspapers quoted the Egyptian military spokesman as saying that the army would conduct investigations into the incident, especially after the martyrdom of two members of the Egyptian army, one of whom was a lieutenant, according to some accounts that mentioned his name.

As for the Israeli narrative, its main concern in this incident was to confirm that there were no casualties among its soldiers, but it did confirm that a member of the Egyptian army was killed. It stated that the Egyptian army was conducting investigations into the incident, but it adopted the narrative that the Egyptian army was the one which started shooting at Israeli army fighters who are part of an armoured force from the 401st Brigade. It added that the Force’s soldiers fired warning shots before they clashed with the source of the shooting – referring to the Egyptian soldiers – and that the relevant Israeli authorities were communicating with the Egyptian side to find out the reasons for what happened. This was all said before the Israeli military removed any news related to the incident.

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Due to the disparity in narratives, the scenarios are left open; each narrative has a scenario, and each scenario has a reading and analysis. If we take the Egyptian narrative, which limited itself to confirming the killing of a member of the Crossing protection forces and then confirming the killing of another member, we find that the narrative is vague and does not go into detail or state who fired the gun first. Here, we are faced with two possibilities; the first is that the incident was an accident and personally motivated by the “officer”, with the officer being the one who ordered the soldiers to shoot, either due to the Israelis’ violation of the security annexes of the peace agreement, or to avenge the blood of his Palestinian brothers. The second possibility, which is more likely, given the military discipline of the Egyptian army, is that the officer was ordered to shoot and the reading into this goes into a different direction.

If the officer had been ordered to fire, the incident might have been a smoke bomb to cover up the “scandal” of the Egyptian intelligence officer in charge of mediating negotiations between the Resistance and the Occupation changing the terms of the recent agreement, resulting in the war resuming fiercely between the Resistance and the Occupation after it had been on the verge of reaching a solution. Of course, Cairo denied what Western newspapers reported in this regard, but it was an understandable protocol denial. The incident was not understandable and had various aspects. All parties addressed it, including the Israeli side, and the American side condemned it. The shooting from the Egyptian side may have been intentional, so that Cairo would appear as a defender of Palestinian rights, and that its positions towards the crisis had changed.

The incident may have been “staged” in order to spare Cairo the embarrassment, by deploying the multinational international forces present in Sinai, which work to monitor the implementation of security agreements and maintain calm on the Egyptian and Israeli sides of the border. In such incidents, the international force is expected to play a role in monitoring the situation and verifying adherence to international agreements. At least in theory, this force monitors the situation and submits reports to the parties concerned, and works to prevent escalation between the two sides, which means that it can deploy its members along the border and can even demand that it be supplied with more members. Hence, Cairo is excluded from the Rafah Operation equation, whether in terms of massacres or potential displacement.

If we accept the Israeli narrative and read the situation in it, we find that the incident occurred hours after the announcement by the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation that Tel Aviv presented the mediators with two offers to progress the discussions on a prisoner exchange deal. If this announcement and talk about a new deal was an attempt to draw attention away from Netanyahu due to the massacres committed by Israel, then the Rafah incident could be seen as the antidote that would heal Netanyahu from the poison of these negotiations, which he sees as fatal to his political future. This was confirmed by the leader of the Occupation’s opposition, Yair Lapid, who said that Netanyahu is prolonging the war in order to prolong his life and the life of his government.

Everyone will profit from this incident, except for the Palestinians. The incident will top all news reports for a day or two, during which something may happen but, in light of all these intelligence games, the Resistance knows its way well and is aware of what is happening on the military level; bombing Tel Aviv is evidence enough, and on the political level, as it continues to insist on the principles of returning the displaced and the withdrawal of the aggressors.

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This article appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 28 May, 2024.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.