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Israelis Cling to Faith in Peace Treaty (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By JOSHUA MITNICK TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 05/25/12)Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303610504577420580650408496.html WALL STREET JOURNAL WALL STREET JOURNAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
TEL AVIV—Israel has watched its cold peace with Egypt turn frigid since the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, but as Egyptians voted for a new leader this week, some Israeli officials said they believe the peace treaty between them is likely to endure no matter who wins.

In the past year, Israel has bulked up its border defense along the chaotic Sinai Peninsula, watched its multibillion-dollar natural-gas supply deal with Egypt evaporate, scaled back its embassy in Cairo after its offices were ransacked, and listened to Egyptian presidential candidates discuss tinkering with their 33-year-old peace pact.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., said Israel´s paramount interest is protecting the pact. "In a region that´s in flux, the peace treaty is a pillar that Israel clings to," he said.

With many uncertainties ahead, many officials and experts here are finding solace in the view that at least the peace pact is safe.

"I don´t see…an Egyptian regime that abrogates the peace treaty with Israel," said Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon, an influential cabinet member who is known for taking a hard line on Israel´s neighbors, in an interview with Israel Radio. "Even an Islamic regime will probably be committed to the peace treaty with Israel."

With the Muslim Brotherhood´s presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi, seen by political rivals as most likely to proceed to a final round of voting next month, the Islamist organization, whose party dominates parliament, could become the pre-eminent political force in the country.

Mr. Morsi, like other Brotherhood leaders, has said he would respect the peace treaty with Israel, but has also called Israel leaders "vampires" and "killers."

Other candidates have made nods to anti-Israel sentiment among Egyptian voters—prolonging the fear that Egypt´s politicians will heed anti-Israel popular sentiment.

While Egypt is in flux, there have been few politicians—Islamist or secular—for Israel to engage. Israel has fallen back on ties between the countries´ defense establishments as the main channel of communication. In the past year, Egypt´s intelligence service has mediated at least three agreements between Israel and Hamas.

In such an environment, Israeli officials are inclined to give Egypt´s ruling military the benefit of the doubt that they share Israel´s interest in keeping Sinai calm.

"We want to maintain the peace, but we understand that it is fragile," said a senior Israeli military officer. "We think that they are as committed as we are."

Mr. Yaalon and others here reason that peace is still in Egypt´s best interest, largely because upending the treaty would risk forfeiting $1.3 billion in military aid from the U.S.—which is a third-party signatory to the accord—at a time when Egypt´s economy has been shrinking and it faces an outsize budget deficit.

Allowing the treaty to go by the wayside could also hurt Egypt´s reputation and affect foreign investment in the economy just as a new government takes over, many Israelis say.

"I don´t think we should see a dramatic change in the strategic policy of Egypt in the future no matter who is elected and no matter how blunt the statements by this future president might be," Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national-security adviser, said.

"Any new president will face a social economic crisis, and will have to think about those matters first. Egypt depends on Western support, and any security tension might decrease Western investment," he said.

Mr. Eiland said that despite all of the turbulence, Israel´s military continues to maintain the forward-looking assessment, held for the past 30 years, that a war with Egypt within two years is unlikely.

One of the litmus tests will be the new government´s relationship with Hamas, an Islamist movement that controls Gaza and is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Mr. Gold, the former ambassador.

Declining Egyptian control over the Sinai Peninsula, a vast region that forms the frontier between the two countries, has raised the threat of cross-border attacks. A strike by militants who Israel says were sent by Palestinians in August left eight Israelis and five Egyptian soldiers dead.

Since the incident, Israel has accelerated work on the last third of a 138-mile fence—over 90% of the border—and has bulked up border patrols. The incident triggered riots in Cairo that led to the closing of the Israeli Embassy building.

Israel has also initiated a policy of pre-emptive strikes in the Gaza Strip against militants it believes to be taking advantage of lax security in the Sinai to strike Israel.

"We want to give the terror organizations less and less opportunity to get between us and the Egyptians,´´ said the senior Israeli military officer, who has direct knowledge of security planning along the southern border. "Good fence, good neighbors." (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 05/25/12)


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