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Nov 20, 2012 | 18:49 GMT

Egyptian Intelligence Officials and Cease-Fire Negotiations

Egyptian Intelligence Officials and Cease-Fire Negotiations
AHMED MAHMOUD/AFP/Getty Images

With rumors of a possible cease-fire agreement in progress between Hamas and Israel, it is worth examining the key forces propelling the negotiations. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-led government, the United States and several other regional players such as Turkey and Qatar have all been playing roles in the ongoing negotiations between Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel. However, this process would likely not be progressing without the participation of trusted Egyptian intelligence officials — who also served under the regime of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — as liaisons with Israeli security officials.

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One such official is Egyptian intelligence chief Mohamed Raafat Shehata. Prior to his appointment to his current post on Aug. 8 by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Shehata served as the undersecretary of the country's General Intelligence Service. Before that, he was reportedly a commander in Egypt's Republican Guard. Shehata's extensive experience has allowed him to develop working relationships with Israel, the United States and Hamas, and he has worked with all parties in securing terms of negotiations and prisoner exchanges. 

For example, he worked with each of these parties to facilitate the October 2011 prisoner exchange involving Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in 2006. Since his appointment as intelligence chief, Shehata has continued to play an integral role in negotiations with Hamas, meeting consistently with Hamas delegations and the organization's leader, Khaled Meshaal, to negotiate the major points of a new security deal and reconciliation among Palestinian factions. 

In the ongoing cease-fire negotiations, it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military and intelligence officials have been working together, relying heavily on Shehata to serve as a liaison between the two sides. Indeed, Muslim Brotherhood representatives and Egyptian intelligence officials were present at meetings with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Moreover, Shehata has held meetings with Meshaal in which the Egyptian intelligence chief was given Hamas' cease-fire terms to present to Israeli officials. Shehata, along with other Egyptian intelligence officials, also met with Israeli security officials to discuss Israel's conditions for a cease-fire.

The participating Egyptian intelligence officials have long-standing relationships with their Israeli counterparts that were initially developed while working on similar issues when Mubarak was in power. The presence of these Egyptian officers was likely central to gaining the trust of Israeli security officials, though it is unclear if these working relationships will be strong enough to give Israel confidence that Egypt will be able to remove any remaining Fajr-5 long-range rockets from Gaza and, more important, prevent future weapons shipments from reaching the Palestinian territory.

The fact of the matter is that the Fajr-5s launched toward Israel in the past week were smuggled into Gaza under Egypt's watch. Consequently, Israel is likely hesitant to trust Cairo in these negotiations, even with old intelligence hands like Shehata involved.

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