Israeli Media: Fearing The Future of Egypt’s Direction

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A man reads the Israeli daily newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, displaying the front cover's headline reading in Hebrew: "Darkness in Egypt," in Jerusalem on 25 June 2012. (Photo: AFP - Menahem Kahana)

By: Mohamad Bdeir

Published Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Disappointment. Anxiety. A dark day. End of the age of illusions. Bad omen. A dangerous victory.... These are some of the expressions that oozed from Israeli commentaries and reactions over the Egyptian elections yesterday.

Developments in Egypt dominated Israeli public opinion, the media and political scene. The headline on Maariv’s first page announcing “A New Middle East” summarized the Israeli opinion of the Egyptian election.

Unofficial Israeli positions saw the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) victory in the presidential elections as the beginning of radical change. The official Israeli position took a more cautious approach, choosing to remain silent except for a courtesy statement, as it was described as by the Israeli press, issued by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in which he expressed his respect for the democratic process in Egypt and its outcome.

As with all the Israeli positions on Egypt since the outbreak of its revolution, we heard the same old broken record about the importance of the Camp David Accords in a statement by Netanyahu who said yesterday that he looks forward to working “with the new administration [in Egypt] based on the peace accords between us,” which he described as “a cornerstone of stability in the region and of vital interest to both countries.”

But Netanyahu’s statement, while appearing to be simple, hides in its folds, according to Israel’s Channel 10, uneasiness and differing assessments in the Israeli administration regarding the future of the relationship between Tel Aviv and Cairo. According to Maariv, Netanyahu’s statement conceals “fears within the military and political institutions that Mohammed Mursi’s election will lead to negative repercussions, especially in the long run, despite his assurances that he will preserve Egypt’s international agreements.”

Noting that Israel’s relationship with Egypt is more important than its relations with any other country in the Arab world, the newspaper revealed that the security institution began months ago to prepare for a different situation on the Egyptian front “while being careful not to harm the sensitive relationship between the two countries and avoiding statements that might be interpreted in a complicated manner.”

Maariv reported that security sources have privately been saying that “if Egypt changes its approach, Israel will face a more difficult security problem than the one it faces with Hezbollah and the terrorist organizations in Gaza. This means that huge budgets will be allocated because since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel has made no preparations in this area (the borders with Egypt).”

The newspaper Israel Today reported security sources as saying that in light of Mursi’s victory Israel should be ready for the possibility that Egypt might demand changes in the Camp David Peace Accords, especially in terms of redeployment in Sinai as the agreement requires keeping the area a demilitarized zone. Security sources warned that “relations might move from a cold stage to a freezing one.”

Other sources told the news website Walla that Israel “had hoped the MB would not come to power in Egypt and that the peace agreement between the two countries would remain stable. However after the disappointing outcome, there is a lot of fear in Israel and in the West.” The sources added that “Israel did not think that an extremist Islamist would head Egypt, that is why accepting the situation politically as well as practically and in terms of intelligence will take time. Peace with Egypt is a strategic asset and it will pass through difficult tests in the long run.”

The sources explained that there are two issues that worry Israel in the foreseeable future in terms of the relationship with an Egypt headed by the MB. They concern the degree to which the MB will allow the military to continue coordinating with Israel and how their good relationship with Hamas and its government will reflect in the Gaza Strip?

Nevertheless, it is clear that despite everything Tel Aviv is strongly counting on the Egyptian army and its role in controlling Egypt’s regional politics during Mursi’s term, especially when it comes to Israel. The army, according to a senior Israeli source “has not said its final word yet and is able to restrain Mursi. Everything depends on the extent to which the new president will try to introduce changes.”

Israeli anxiety over the Egyptian elections was reflected in the commentary of the Israeli press as these elections occupied their front pages and a lot of space was dedicated to covering and analyzing the issue in light of the expected “dark scenarios.”

The newspaper Yediot Ahronot pointed out that Mursi’s presidency “opens the door to many possibilities but the future is foggy and fraught with uncertainty.” It demanded that Tel Aviv be ready to face any possible scenario. The newspaper expressed fear that Egypt might turn into “something else” pointing out that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) violated all the existing deals, including the gas agreement, while Israel stayed put and did not respond out of fear. What is more, the regime allowed for the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo, stopped issuing visas and decreased the number of flights. “It is expected that the MB will have no problem carrying on in this way.”

Nevertheless, the newspaper confirmed that “Egypt will not turn overnight into an enemy state that threatens Israel’s borders, but the Israeli intelligence and military institutions should deal with the country as an old friend that needs to be reassessed and they should prepare accordingly.”

Maariv argued that the new Egyptian president faces difficult and immediate challenges. He has to ease the tension with the military institution and create a new formula for coexistence between the army and the presidency. The biggest challenge, however, is going to be in defining the image of a post Mubarak Egypt. Israel and the United States hope that Egypt under the MB will adopt the Turkish model, meaning create a secular and democratic state with a moderate Islamist leadership.

Haaretz hoped that the new Egyptian president will keep his promises and be a “president for all Egyptians” and refrain from turning Egypt into an Islamist state. The newspaper pointed out that the new president will be preoccupied with preventing Egypt’s economic bankruptcy and ensuring that the state will continue to receive huge loans from the US and the international community. That is why Mursi, they believe, will be forced to accept the peace agreement with Israel.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

The Israelis also believe that Obama and Clinton welcome the result, and therefore that it functions not only as a message from Egypt but also as a message from the USA. They must be quietly desperate to see Obama defeated by Romney in November.

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