Israelis Cling to Faith in Peace Treaty (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By JOSHUA MITNICK TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 05/25/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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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
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
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
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
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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