Tensions flare as Egypt cuts off gas deal with Israel (INDEPENDENT UK) CATRINA STEWART JERUSALEM 04/24/12)
INDEPENDENT UK Articles-Index-Top
Netanyahu tries to play down fraying relations as Cairo scraps
Israeli officials have sought to downplay the political repercussions
of Egypt´s abrupt decision to cancel a 20-year gas-supply contract
over a payment dispute amid deteriorating ties between the two
The gas deal, signed in 2005, has emerged as a focus for public ire
in Egypt. Once seen as a vehicle for corruption under Hosni Mubarak,
the ousted Egyptian leader, it is now viewed as a hated symbol of the
previous regime´s close ties with the Jewish state.
Israeli officials initially reacted angrily to the Egyptian decision,
calling it a "dangerous precedent" that could endanger the 1979 peace
treaty between the two countries. But yesterday, Israel back-pedalled
on its criticism of Cairo, painting the dispute as purely commercial
"We don´t see this cut-off of the gas as something that is born out
of political developments," the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin
Netanyahu, said. "It´s actually a business dispute between the
Israeli company and the Egyptian company."
Mohamed Shoeib, head of the state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding
Company, said the deal was cancelled because Israel had not paid for
the gas for the past four months. "This has nothing to do with
anything outside of the commercial relations," he said.
Israel has rejoined that the gas supply, which at one time accounted
for 40 per cent of its needs, has been continuously disrupted in
recent months. Unknown saboteurs have blown up the pipeline in the
Egyptian Sinai more than 14 times in the past year.
The gas deal, controversial even under Mr Mubarak´s rule, has come
under intense scrutiny in Egypt since the dictator was toppled from
power last year following a popular uprising. His regime, which
fostered close ties with Israel despite deep-running resentment among
ordinary Egyptians over Israeli policies towards the Palestinians in
Gaza and the West Bank, was accused of selling the gas to Israel at
below-market prices. Moreover, Mubarak allies were accused of using
the deal to enrich themselves, and several officials have faced
charges in connection with the contract.
The decision to cancel the deal has been welcomed inside Egypt, with
the presidential candidate Amr Moussa arguing that it was a "natural
step" given the corruption that tainted the agreement. Others said
that Egypt needed the gas amid shortages of its own, although an
Egyptian minister said yesterday that Israel was welcome to negotiate
a new contract.
As the Israeli premier dispatched officials to Cairo in an effort to
contain the crisis, there were some in his government who warned that
the Egyptian decision would have far-reaching repercussions. "The
pretext is that this is a business dispute, but we see it as not a
business dispute," said Uzi Landau, Israel´s Energy Minister, warning
of power shortages this summer and signalling worse to come. The
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz described it as a "dangerous
precedent that diminishes the peace treaty".
Many in Israel fear that the Islamist parties, who now command a
majority in Egypt´s new parliament, will abrogate the landmark 1979
peace deal that has ensured a stable, if cool, peace along its
southern border for three decades. Although the Muslim Brotherhood,
the dominant political force in Egypt, has pledged to uphold past
agreements with Israel, the peace deal, which was signed without
consultation with the Egyptian public, is nevertheless expected to
become a focus of debate in coming months.
"What happened with the gas deal serves as a reminder that any kind
of relationship with Israel ... is not popular in Egypt," Eli Shaked,
an Israeli former ambassador to Egypt, told The Independent. "It´s
not going to happen in the foreseeable future, but after all the
procedures – governmental, presidential [elections] – come to an end,
the Israeli file will again be on the table."
Special relationship: Post-spring freeze
* Militants crossed the border and attacked an Israeli bus, killing
eight, last August. Five Egyptian soldiers were later killed,
presumed to be by Israeli forces pursuing the militants.
* Thousands of rioters stormed Israel´s embassy in Cairo in
September, forcing the ambassador to flee. Egypt´s military rulers
were accused of initially ignoring US pleas to intervene for
* Attackers have blown up the Israel-Egypt gas pipeline more than 14
times since the revolution in Egypt, apparently to stop supplies to
Israel. The attacks have further strained relations between Israel
and Egypt since the exit of Hosni Mubarak. (©independent.co.uk
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY