By South24 Center

Iran - Between Peace with Egypt and War with Israel


Wed, 20-09-2023 04:12 PM, Aden

Egypt's approach towards normalizing relations with Iran is still cautious and skeptical 

Nancy Zidan (South24) 

The second Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership that saw the presence of Egypt, Iraq and the Gulf countries in Jordan, in December 2022, as well as Iran, also witnessed the beginning of public moves by Tehran to restore its ties with its Arab neighbors, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The ties between Iran and the two countries have witnessed periods of tension and animosity. However, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis and its international ramifications have cast a shadow over the Middle East and pushed the region’s countries to adopt a more pragmatic and open policy for deeper cooperation with the two biggest Eastern forces, Russia and China.

Recently, some secret as well as public negotiations were held between Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which led to the China-sponsored Saudi-Iranian agreement in March 2023. This development, that surprised everyone, pushed Israel, the biggest of the worried parties at this rapprochement, to urge the United States to prioritize the Saudi-Israeli normalization in its agenda in the region. [1]

Parallelly, Iran has intensified its diplomatic efforts to achieve full normalization with Egypt. There have been prominent Iraqi mediation efforts between Iran and Egypt at the request of Tehran. This was seen in the visits by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' Al-Sudani to Egypt in March and June this year. There has also been Omani mediation, as seen in the back-to-back visits by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq to Cairo and Tehran in May-June. Many Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, have publicly supported these efforts. However, Egypt has maintained its cautious position and calculated approach. [2]

This paper is an attempt to compare between Iran's relationship with Egypt on the one hand and its ties with Israel on the other, which aims at forming a tripartite equation centered on Iran and how it could affect the Middle East.

Egypt and Iran - Cautious interest

Undoubtedly, Tehran looks at restoring ties with Egypt, a key player in the Arab world, as an important political achievement. Iran believes that this would serve as an indication of its growing recognition by Arab states, including the pro-Western bloc. The building of a more cooperative partnership between Egypt and Iran can also be used as a tool to mitigate Western fears regarding Iran's intentions. [3] Iran also sees it as an opportunity to consolidate its regional position and its ability to deter Israel. Iran's new rapport with the Arab states would also thwart Israeli hopes to form an anti-Iranian regional alliance. [4]

Improving its relationship with Egypt would also pave the way for Iran to expand its economic and commercial ties in the region by using the Suez Canal and increasing Tehran's exports to Cairo. This is in keeping with the "resistance economy" strategy adopted by Iran to strengthen its resilience against the international sanctions by enhancing trade cooperation with regional markets. [5] In 2021, Iran's exports to Egypt stood at $US6.92 million while Egyptian exports to Iran were $US994,000 [6] or about one million dollars.

As for Egypt, economic considerations play an important role in shaping its policies towards Iran. However, this has been restricted by its security concerns. There are many sectors for possible economic cooperation between the two nations, including increasing exports to the Iranian market. A rapprochement would also help expand bilateral religious tourism and attract more Iranians to visit Shiite sites in Egypt and South Sinai. In March 2023, Egypt announced easier access to entry visas for Iranian tourists. [7] An Iranian official also confirmed that Iran and Egypt have reached an understanding on an exchange of tourists by October, thanks to Iraqi mediation. This understanding stipulates that Iranians' tourist visas and their stay in the city of Sharm El-Sheikh shouldn't exceed seven days. The Egyptian capital city of Cairo can be added to this agreement. However, there hasn't been any formal announcement on this so far. [8]

Egypt has adopted a cautious approach in normalizing its relations with Iran. In view of this, the Egyptian Intelligence deliberations preceded the talks between politicians and diplomats of the two countries. Reports revealed that in November 2022 a meeting was held between Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Abbas Kamel and Iranian Vice President Ali Salajegheh, in addition to periodic interactions between intelligence delegations from the two countries.

One can’t ignore that Iran has aspired to take part in Iraqi reconstruction efforts as the latter is its largest arena of political clout. The gains stemming from reconstruction operations are usually very huge. Iran publicly revealed this in January 2019 when its then Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for giving Iranian firms a key role in rebuilding Iraq after the end of the fighting against the ISIS. He warned against employing Western companies for doing this task. [9] Against this backdrop, Egypt's participation in the reconstruction of Iraq and Syria, which are part of the Iranian influence circle, reveals a lot.

Furthermore, there is the ‘New Levant Project‘  based on the idea of transporting Iraqi oil to Egypt via Jordan. This would reduce the price of Iraqi oil to Egypt and Jordan to about USD11 per barrel in return for electricity supplies from both countries. [10] This would end Iraq’s need for importing electricity from Iran. [11] These factors have helped ensure Iran's flexibility in abandoning its near-term interests for long-term and more sustainable ones. It is also to be noted that Iran and Egypt share the friendship of Russia and China which played an important role in granting both of them membership in the BRICS bloc last month. [12]

However, the security axis remains the most important for Egypt. It would test if Iran is ready to make a shift in its policies in a way that supports the stability of the region and helps settle regional crises such as the Yemen conflict. This is in light of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a convention to combat terror financing and money laundering, keeping Iran on its blacklist for not taking action to comply with global regulations. [13]

In June 2022, reports said that Egypt had warned Iran against targeting Israeli tourists visiting Sinai in response to the alleged targeted killing operations of Iran-backed militia by Israel. Cairo also doesn't want to turn Gaza into an Iranian base against Israel. It may believe that cooperating with Iran would enhance its efforts to mediate between Palestinian resistance factions and Israel, give a boost to internal Palestinian reconciliation and prevent cooperation between terrorist groups in Gaza and North Sinai. This would also push Iran to play a positive role in stabilizing the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait – that separates the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa – and ensure the security of the trade navigation in the Red Sea by preventing the Houthis from carrying out hostile acts. [14]

Iran and Israel - entrenched enmity 

Between 2017-2022, the Israeli army carried out more than 400 air raids in Syria and other parts of the Middle East against targets affiliated with Iran and its allies. [15] In January 2023, inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog – the International Atomic Energy Agency – found that Iran’s uranium enrichment level has reached a purity of 83.7%, bringing it close to the 90% level required to manufacture nuclear weapons.

In June 2023, Ynet News said that "Israeli Defense Forces had formed a new intelligence unit to prepare for potential hostilities with Iran. The 30-soldier unit, called Branch 54, was responsible for intelligence collection on the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)” and “providing the military with the knowledge infrastructure regarding Iranian military capabilities and strategic systems under their control” with a purpose to prepare for a possible military confrontation. [16]

A report issued by ’The Jewish Institute for the National Security of America’ (JINSA) in July 2023, titled ‘No Daylight: U.S. Strategy if Israel Attacks Iran’, said that the US should support Israel if the latter acts militarily to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Separately, two senior JINSA experts, writing in the opinion page of The Hill in August 2023, wrote "This includes amplifying recent assertions by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that the United States supports ‘Israel’s freedom of action’.” The authors also urged the United States to “expedite delivery to Israel of KC-46A tankers, precision-guided munitions, F-15 and F-35 aircraft and air and missile defenses, for which Israel has already arranged procurement. This will help maximize deterrence, and Israeli military effectiveness". [17]

In a report in June 2023, leading UK think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that: “However, it isn't only the nuclear issue that concerns Israel. For quite some time now, it has seen an Iranian presence close to its borders wherever it turns its head. In Syria, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories, there is a strong Iranian presence to one degree or another. This has led Israel to adopt a strategy known as the war-between-wars against Iran in different parts of the region – close to its borders and well beyond – which is aimed at taking preventative actions, mainly covert ones.” [18] It continued: “The aim is to either prevent or at least delay a full-scale war, or to reduce its destructive consequences should one break out. There are many facets to this shadow war between the two countries, with an increasing danger that it might lead to actual and direct hostilities. Israel’s objective is to slow down the Iranian nuclear program and its ability to pose a threat directly or by proxy – for instance, by assassinating key scientists or through cyber attacks – in addition to daily confrontation in other arenas. Earlier this year, it was reported that an Israeli attack destroyed hundreds of Iranian drones at a military site in the Iranian city of Isfahan.”

These attacks have undoubtedly pushed Iran to adopt an unusually flexible policy to enhance its regional understandings with Arab states and to strengthen its friendly relationships with Russia and China. This is in addition to engaging with Washington for the release of five American citizens held in Tehran under house arrest in return for unfreezing $6 billion of Iranian assets in South Korea, in a prisoner swap deal. The five Americans landed in Washington on Tuesday (September 19, 2023) The agreement also involved the release of five Iranians in US custody.

Finally, Egypt's approach toward normalizing relations with Iran is still cautious and skeptical in spite of Tehran's relentless efforts to reassure Cairo. Furthermore, Egypt’s outlook is guided by two main factors: the success and stability of the Iranian-Saudi normalization deal, and taking the American green light. So far, Washington hasn't opposed the Arab-Iranian rapprochement as it looks at it as a possible factor for stability and calmness in the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian issue remains the most controversial factor, especially with the presence of Iran-funded armed factions. However, there is an ongoing hope that the Egyptian-Saudi-Iranian cooperation would exploit the current chaos in Israel to secure vital and decisive gains including the establishment of an independent Palestinian state using diplomatic and political tools.

Nancy Talal Zidan

Non-resident fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies, researcher in political science and media analysis.

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic


[1] Nancy Zidan, American Normalization Efforts between Saudi Arabia and Israel.. What Has Been Achieved? (South24 Center, 25/3/2023)


[2] Nael Shama, Egypt and Iran Could Be the Next Thaw in the Middle East, Jul 5, 2023,


[3]  Dr. Mohamed ELDoh, After Saudi Arabia: Iran’s Rapprochement with Egypt | Geopolitical Monitor,  May 31, 2023.


[4] Ofir Winter and Raz Zimmt | Normalization between Egypt and Iran, and the Implications for Israel, June 29, 2023,p.3, No.-1743.pdf (


[5] Idem, p.4


[6] Iran and Egypt Economic Exchange 2021,


[7] Ofir Winter and Raz Zimmt,op.cite,p.4


[8] "New Understandings Between Egypt and Iran Through Iraqi Mediation(27.8.2024,)


[9] Iran Aspires for Reconsting Iraq Following the Destruction of ISIS, (17/1/2019,


[10] Dr. Soha Al-Maghawri Jawhari, The New Levant Project and the Changing Structure of Energy Trade Exchange and the Egyptian Role in Solving Electricity Role in Iraq,Article 11, Volume 9, Issue 2, June 2023)


[11] Iraq imports 7 gigawatts of electricity from Iran (


[12] What Does the Joining of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt to Mean for the Middle East, 28/8/2023, Euronews



[13] Will  the BRICS  Membership of Egypt and Iran Enhance the Efforts for Their Rapprochement? ( 28/8/2023)


[14] Ofir Winter and Raz Zimmt,op.cite,p.5


[15]  Bilal Y. Saab,  Nickoo Azimpoor,Peace With Israel Means War With Iran, AUGUST 30, 2023,


[16] Israel: The Iran Threat & Options, August 1, 2023,


[17] MICHAEL MAKOVSKY AND CHUCK WALD, If Israel strikes Iran over its nuclear program, the US must have its back- 08/13/23


[18] Yossi Mekelberg, Israel and Iran are Edging Closer to Direct Confrontation,28 June 2023,

IranEgyptHouthisMiddle EastYemenLebanonIraqSyriaRed SeaEl-SisiISIS