Israel Reacts With Caution After Islamist Wins in Egypt (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By JOSHUA MITNICK TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 06/26/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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TEL AVIV—Israel fears that the victory of Islamist Mohammed Morsi in
Egypt´s presidential election is likely to erode the already delicate
ties between the two countries, testing one of the Middle East´s
important strategic links.
Most Israeli officials expect the Muslim Brotherhood leader to uphold
a promise to preserve the 33-year-old peace treaty between Egypt and
Israel. But many analysts say they expect the "cold peace" between
the countries to get chillier.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Monday that Israel
respects the Egyptian vote and said he looks forward to working with
the new administration. "I believe that the peace is important to
Egypt," he said. "And I believe that the peace is the fundamental
pillar of stability in our region." Last year, however, he warned
that Egypt´s revolution against longtime President Hosni Mubarak, who
often worked in silent partnership with Israel on security, could
empower Islamist radicals.
Israeli cabinet ministers and officials were largely silent for fear
of upsetting the fragile ties. "The situation in Egypt is too
unstable to say anything more," said an Israeli official. "We don´t
know anything about what is going on there."
The two countries´ defense establishments enjoy robust working ties.
The peace treaty between the sides is linked to $1.3 billion in U.S.
military aid to Egypt. But there is concern that Mr. Morsi will adopt
a more confrontational public stance toward the Jewish state while
strengthening ties with Hamas, a militant offshoot of the Muslim
Brotherhood that refuse to recognize Israel or foreswear violence.
Hamas runs the Gaza Strip.
There is an expectation among many Israel observers that the new
Egyptian president won´t push to reverse growing chaos in the Sinai
Desert that has led to cross-border attacks into Israel, including an
ambush last week that killed one building contractor. Israel has
accused militants from Gaza of using the peninsula as a base for such
operations, and has launched retaliatory attacks into the strip.
Israel is also waiting to see the outcome of the power struggle
between Mr. Morsi and the generals who have served as Egypt´s interim
rulers, with some seeing an echo of the tension in Turkey between
Islamist politicians and the army.
"After Morsi´s rise to power, everything is open and unclear," Alex
Fishman, a defense commentator, wrote in the daily Yediot Ahronot
newspaper. "Egypt has not become this morning an enemy state
threatening Israel´s borders, but the intelligence and military
establishment in Israel should nonetheless regard the old friend as a
country that has to be relearned, and should prepare accordingly."
Israel has already rushed construction over the past year on a fence
about 160 miles(250 kilometers) long to seal off the frontier with
Egypt, and it has also bulked up its patrols along the border. With
Mr. Morsi´s victory, Israel may need to adopt a new policy for using
force in the Gaza Strip, experts say, given the new risks of fallout
"The Muslim Brotherhood in general is committed to honoring Egyptian
commitments from international agreements, and they´re likely to do
that," said Shimon Shamir, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. "The
main question is what will happen if a crisis breaks out. In that
case, the relations could be affected much more than in the era of
Mubarak. It is likely that Egypt, which is ruled by Morsi, will
probably react more strongly, and the relations will become more
Reflecting public anxiety over the Muslim Brotherhood´s ascendence in
Egypt, Yediot Ahronot ran a front-page headline "Darkness in Egypt"—a
Hebrew pun referring to one of the 10 biblical plagues visited on
Egypt prior to the Israelites´ exodus. Israeli news websites featured
a report from an Iranian state news agency that Mr. Morsi plans to
warm relations with Tehran. Cairo denied the report.
Despite heightened concern about a decline in relations, Israeli
military planners haven´t sought billions of dollars to rebuild the
conventional Israeli forces that would face Egypt in any war. Such a
decision would reflect a strategic shift in Israel´s long-term
thinking about relations with its southern neighbor.
The 1979 peace treaty with Egypt gave Israel´s economy a substantial
peace dividend in the form of lower defense spending, and served as a
precedent for subsequent peace talks with the Palestinians, Jordan
A key question facing Israeli policy planners is whether Mr. Morsi
will hew to the Muslim Brotherhood ideology that negates Israel´s
existence and calls for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate on
historic Palestine—or, instead, whether he will seek a way to
accommodate Israel and focus domestic concerns like promoting
Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said that while
the Brotherhood has a "worrisome ideological baggage," Israel will
need to monitor the division of power between the military and the
civilian government, and the new president´s efforts to revive the
"If the Muslim Brotherhood continues to maintain the kind of jihadist
language that is on its website, then the Egyptian economy will go
nowhere,´´ he said. "Unfortunately, the past record of Muslim
Brotherhood regimes in power in Sudan in the 1990s...and in Gaza
under [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniyeh is not a source of
encouragement." (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 06/26/12)
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