Worried Israel watches Egypt shake-up

2012-08-13 22:26
Thousands of supporters celebrate with a poster showing Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Tahrir Square, in Cairo. (Amr Nabil, AP)

Thousands of supporters celebrate with a poster showing Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Tahrir Square, in Cairo. (Amr Nabil, AP)

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Jerusalem - Israel is watching "with great concern" the developments in Egypt where Islamist President Mohammed Morsi ousted his powerful defence minister and army chief following a deadly attack in Sinai.

In a surprise move aimed at curbing the Egyptian army's sweeping powers, Morsi on Sunday forced retirement upon both Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the army's Chief of Staff Sami Anan.

The bold step, which followed the dismissal of intelligence chief Murad Muwafi, came a week after 16 Egyptian border police were gunned down by militants in northern Sinai who then forced their way into Israel, where they were halted by an Israeli helicopter strike.

"It is too early to say what will happen because everything is evolving in Egypt, but we are following what is happening there with great concern," an Israeli government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, and although the relationship has remained frosty, security co-operation and ties between the two countries' armies remained solid, despite the political upheaval following the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

"Military co-operation is more necessary than ever to re-establish order along the border and in Sinai. The new leadership in the Egyptian army knows that, but the question is what does the Egyptian leadership want," the official said.

"This question has not yet been answered because the new Egyptian government is refusing all contact with Israel," he said of the Morsi administration, which has kept Israel at arm's length since since the new president took office on June 30.

Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, a former general, was confident that Morsi would not abandon the peace treaty.

"A rational leader wouldn't do that and President Morsi is a rational leader," he told Israeli army radio, adding that the United States could exert great influence on the Morsi government, whose main priority is to fix the economy.

Situation dynamic

"That is the number one focus for any Egyptian leader today," Mofaz said. "Without external help, notably from the United States and the West, it won't be able to. Egypt is also reliant for its military ability on US weapons and aid, so the United States is a very, very central player in the new system," he said.

For many years, Israel's security establishment maintained regular ties with figures like Tantawi and Muwafi, with press reports suggesting their removal would force Israel to seek out new interlocutors.

"The change of security and military leadership in Egypt will require Israel to open channels of dialogue with the new figures, not all of whom are familiar faces," an analysis in Maariv newspaper said.

But for the most part, commentators said it was too early to assess the impact on Israel's relations with its southern neighbour.

"The harm inflicted on the Egyptian military - the pro-Western and secular power in Egypt - may in the long term weaken one of the anchors that ensured that the peace agreement with Israel was kept," wrote Alex Fishman in the rival Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

"But events in Egypt are so dynamic, quick and unpredictable, that it is difficult to say where Israel-Egypt relations will be in a number of months."

Read more on:    mohammed morsi  |  us  |  egypt  |  israel
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