Berenice military base: Al-Sisi suffocates Gaza

Since the Egyptian army announced the opening of the Berenice military base last January, in the presence of General al-Sisi and Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, doubts have been raised about this base regarding its sources of funding and the strategic objective behind it. Doubts regarding the Berenice military base coincided with the talk of experts in Israel that this base will contribute to protecting Israel’s security and that it is one of the fruits of the security and military alliance between Tel Aviv and some Arab countries.

News about the military base came again after Al Jazeera broadcast an investigative documentary programme a few days ago, which revealed that the base was built to tighten the screws on the Palestinian resistance in Gaza and disarm it. There are increasing questions about al-Qaeda, the source of its funding, and its role in tightening the screws on the Gaza Strip, at a time when Egypt continues to suffocate the sector militarily, economically, and politically over the past years with various forms of a siege.

Berenice military base

The Berenice military base is located on the Red Sea coast near the southern international border east of Aswan. The military base is 150,000 acres, and it includes a naval base, an airbase, a military hospital, many combat and administrative units, shooting ranges and training for all weapons, and a dock. The declared strategic goal of establishing the base is to protect and secure the southern Egyptian coasts, protect economic investments and natural resources, and face security challenges within the Red Sea.

The documentary reviewed the security and military alliance between Tel Aviv and Arab countries to suffocate the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip, cut off its supply lines, and dry up its weapons sources. The Arab affairs analyst for Channel 12, Ehud Yaari, commented on Israeli gas being pumped to Egypt. “Israel has minimal presence in this sensitive area, and expanding the Egyptian presence there would also help maintain the security of ships to and from Israel,” Yaari said. Yaari emphasised that Egypt obtained aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to establish the military base, as part of the two countries’ steps to deploy military bases along with the Red Sea coasts. He pointed out that there is a state of discontent among Egyptians resulting from spending billions on weapons in recent years.

China and Russia

According to experts, one of the reasons for building the Berenice military base is Egypt’s desire to satisfy China, which has pumped tens of billions of dollars into investments in Egypt over the past few years. Meanwhile, China is concerned about navigation safety in the Red Sea, which is one of the main routes of the Belt and Road initiative adopted by Beijing.

For his part the military expert, Youssef al-Sharqawi, explained in press statements that al-Qaeda is considered an advanced service by the Egyptian President, for Israel to defend its interests, especially in the Bab al-Mandab area, in light of the Houthi presence, one of Iran’s military arms in that region. But he indicated that the Egyptian military base would create Russian discontent in the region, as it has become a country with a regional role in the Middle East. He added that the presence of that base would enhance US-Egyptian cooperation against the Iranians in the Red Sea region.

Other experts explained that the base was established near Bab al-Mandab, to secure Gulf oil exports. About 4.8 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined oil products flow through the strait. Towards Europe, the United States, and Asia, according to US Energy Information Administration data for 2016.

Gaza under siege

The most important point remains the role of the Berenice military base in the siege against Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip. The political and military leadership in Egypt has taken a hostile stance against the Strip since the success of Hamas in the Palestinian elections and its formation of the government in 2006. The Egyptian army built a separation wall with the Gaza Strip, closed the Rafah border crossing for long periods, and prevented humanitarian aid convoys from reaching the besieged people in Gaza.

After the military coup in Egypt in 2013, Egypt escalated the tightening of the screws on the Palestinians in Gaza by closing the border crossing, demolishing tunnels on the border, and evacuating the Egyptian city Rafah, and flooding the border area with water. It also recently started building a steel wall on the borders to prevent the smuggling of commercial goods or the supply of weapons to the Palestinian resistance, measures that are commended by the Israeli government.