Amid the Sisi-MBZ-Bennett summit, has Egypt become part of a contain-Iran axis?

Leaders of Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have met in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks on the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the growing influence of Iran in the region.

However, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll said in a radio interview. “Israel is committed to build a good partnership with anyone possible against the radical axis of Iran,” reported Reuters.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price welcomed the three-way talks in a press briefing on Tuesday. “It’s yet another example of what is possible with normalized relations,” Price told reporters.

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday hosted the meeting with UAE de facto leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – their first three-way summit since the UAE normalized relations with Israel.

The three leaders reportedly discussed the effects of the Ukraine conflict on energy, market stability, and food security, as well as a number of other international issues, Ittihadiya statement said.

The talks focused on “bolstering global energy security and market stability” as well as regional stability, an Emirati statement carried by WAM said. The status of the Iran nuclear talks was a topic of discussion, diplomatic sources said on Monday following the meeting.

Egypt’s presidency said the three leaders discussed energy market stability and food security, two acute challenges for Cairo after Russia’s offensive in Ukraine sent wheat and crude oil prices soaring, as well as international and regional issues.

The three countries – allies and partners of the United States – are part of an emerging Arab-Israeli axis seeking to counter-balance Iranian power at a time of uncertainty over Washington’s security commitment in the region.

“We clearly see the strengthening of an axis that offers another narrative in the Middle East, that we can work together and cooperate on economic and defense matters,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll said.

“Israel is committed to build a good partnership with anyone possible against the radical axis of Iran,” he told Kann radio.

A statement from Bennett’s office later said simply that the three countries discussed strengthening ties on all levels in their talks, which began on Monday and stretched into Tuesday.

Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel four decades ago, while the United Arab Emirates forged ties with Israel in 2020, driven partly by shared concerns over Iran.

In particular, the three countries are worried about a deal taking shape to restore a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and major powers, which lifted sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear program. Iran’s enemies fear it is seeking to build nuclear weapons, a charge it denies.

Bennett says the expected deal is weaker than the original arrangement and would lead to a more violent Middle East, and has urged the United States not to remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guards from a foreign terrorist organization blacklist in exchange for “empty promises”.

The United States was reportedly considering such a move in return for Iranian assurances about reining in the elite force, amid efforts to revive a 2015 deal under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions

Gulf states have criticized the nuclear talks for not addressing Iran’s missiles program and proxy forces, including in Yemen where Houthi fighters have fired missiles into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Disagreement with Washington on both those issues has increased tensions between the United States and the two oil- exporting Gulf powers, who fear a resurgent Iran if it is able to export oil again under a nuclear deal with Washington.

“We have some of the top U.S. allies not happy with the Biden approach,” Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah said. “For them to stand up together and for them to speak in one voice – that might resonate.”

Khaled Okasha, head of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, said Sisi’s meeting with Bennett would have focused on the impact of the Ukraine conflict, while all three countries had overlapping views on Iran.

“We are concerned with the Gulf being a secure area that is not threatened in this consistent way from Iran,” he said.

A Cairo-based source said that a separate meeting between MBZ and Sisi had also been expected to cover the reintegration of Syria into the Arab world after Abu Dhabi last week hosted President Bashar al-Assad’s first visit to an Arab country since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011.

Sisi and Bin Zayed were also expected to cover Emirati investment or economic support for Egypt, the source said.

The war in Ukraine has pressured emerging market economies and prompted Cairo on Monday to devalue its currency by 14%.

Cairo is typically the world’s biggest wheat importer, sourcing most of those imports from Russia and Ukraine. While those costs are rising sharply, tourism receipts from Russian and Ukrainian visitors are expected to fall.