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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
- For Israel, what must be exercised in the volatile struggle for power and democracy in Egypt are, above everything else, three follow-on principles: stability within its institutions, particularly the armed forces; security in the Sinai Peninsula and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which both border Israel; and peace with Israel itself.
Following the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prudently instructed Israeli officials to lock themselves in silent diplomacy, lest public statements, comments or debates be misinterpreted as meddling in internal Egyptian affairs.
Israeli security officials fear a weakening of Egyptian law and order could upset the relative quiet prevailing both in the Sinai desert and on the Gaza front.
When Morsi won the presidential race a year ago, Israelis assumed Cairo would quickly transform into some Sunni version of Tehran in cahoots with the Islamist resistance movement Hamas in Gaza.
In retrospect, Morsi was good for Israel, even better than Mubarak. He threatened to amend the 1979 peace treaty, but under United States pressure, respected it.
Refusing to have any dealings with Israel, he delegated his security prerogatives to the military establishment – which would eventually depose him.
In the meantime, the military, Israel’s sole contact with Cairo, managed the cold peace status quo between the two countries well. Security cooperation and coordination between the two neighbours was never so tight.
The Egyptian “big brother” presided over Palestinian brothers in Gaza. In some sort of post mortem acknowledgement, Israeli commentators are quick to point out that during Morsi’s one-year tenure, Gaza was quieter than ever.
The numbers speak for themselves. In the first six months following Operation Pillar of Defence (November 2012), only 24 rockets were launched on southern Israel, in sharp contrast with the 171 rockets that rained on Israel during the parallel period after Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009).
Morsi’s administration wasn’t just instrumental in brokering a ceasefire during Israel’s most recent onslaught on Gaza but also responsible for monitoring its implementation. With prodding from Egypt, Hamas’s own security units reined in cross-border attacks.
When Islamic Jihad guerrillas fired rockets on Israel’s Negev desert only a fortnight ago, Egypt, still under Morsi, effectively prevented a potential escalation.
Precisely because of his Islamic credentials, Morsi did what his anti-Islamic predecessor never dared do in Gaza.
The Egyptian military intensified its campaign against tunnels used by militants to infiltrate activists to Sinai and to smuggle weapons, food and other goods to the Palestinian territory otherwise asphyxiated under the double-barrelled Egyptian-Israeli blockade.
In parallel with the construction of the security wall by Israel, the Egyptian army made sustainable efforts in Sinai at both blocking African migrants and smugglers, and acting against global Jihadist and other Islamist militants.
In the midst of last week’s political climax, it was widely reported in the local media that Israel agreed to allow additional Egyptian forces police the area of northern Sinai which abuts the Gaza Strip.
According to the peace accord, any Egyptian military reinforcement in the demilitarised zone is conditional to Israel’s green light.
During last week’s turmoil, the only gunfire heard by Israeli soldiers patrolling the area adjacent to the Egyptian side of the border was that of celebrations at Morsi’s destitution.
But for the last couple of days, the Sinai has been witnessing a resurgence of incidents. On Friday, two days after Morsi’s removal from power, militants attacked a police station in Rafah as well as army checkpoints protecting the al-Arish airport, both near Gaza, resulting in six Egyptian soldiers killed in the separate incidents.
Consequently, the Rafah border crossing to and from Gaza is closed until further notice. That does not bode well for Hamas’s already embattled status.
On Sunday, for the first time in a year, an explosion hit the pipeline conveying natural gas to Jordan.
At this critical juncture, Israel’s supreme interest boils down to letting the regime – any regime, be it military or civilian, religious or secular – win over the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people so that stability is restored in Egypt, and beyond.