Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Saturday implied that there is official cooperation between the Israeli and Egyptian governments in the fight against Hamas, saying that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi "flooded part of the Hamas tunnels, to a certain extent at the request of Israel." Steinitz soon backtracked, saying his remarks had been misunderstood.
Israel and Egypt have been trying for months to downplay the security cooperation between the two countries and dampen any news on the subject.
Steinitz's comments came after he was asked at a Be'er Sheva event about the problem of tunnels in the south and contacts with Egypt. According to the minister, "flooding is a good solution for that area. This is not a solution for an area of 70-60 kilometers. Al-Sisi did that, to some degree to our request. "
Steinitz referred extensively to the links and security coordination with the Egyptians, which he said have greatly improved in recent times. "The security coordination between Israel and Egypt is better than ever," he said, adding that Israel "will not necessarily know about each and every tunnel and shaft." He added that "there is a tremendous effort to produce a technology that copes with the underground threat."
Steinitz declined to comment on whether Israel has had a part in the collapse of Hamas tunnels in recent weeks, in which members of the special tunnels unit established by the Hamas terrorist organization in recent years were killed. When Steinitz said that Egypt flooded the tunnels to some extent at the request of Israel, he violated military censor guidelines . Steinitz is at present an observer at the Political-Security Cabinet without the right to vote and is privy to every secret discussion in the restricted forum. Prime Minister Netanyahu is interested in promoting him to full membership, but this initiative has not succeeded yet.
After Steinitz's remarks received broad attention, the minister was quick to declare that people interpreting him as saying that the Egyptian flooding was the result of Israeli prodding had misunderstood him.
This denial of the statements that were made before cameras and a crowd of hundreds of people is rare, and there were those within the political system who wondered whether this announcement folloewd a rebuke from the prime minister for embarrassing the Egyptians. Steinitz's office and the Prime Minister's Office denied that the minister was reprimanded.