Israel nervous about Egyptian turmoil

2013-07-02 21:15

Jerusalem - Israeli officials are warily watching the mass protests in neighbouring Egypt, fearing a collapse of the Islamist government could threaten the historic peace treaty between the two nations.

While Israeli leaders have been careful not to take sides in Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's struggle with protesters, many fear extremist Islamic groups could take advantage of chaos to launch attacks from either Egypt or the Gaza Strip.

It is an ironic turn of events.

The election of Morsi, a member of the anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood, last year raised fears among Israeli leaders that Egypt would move to cancel the 1979 peace accord. Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, carefully honoured the peace deal and maintained close co-ordination with the Israeli military.

"Like everybody, we are watching very carefully what's happening in Egypt," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

"Remember that for 30 years now we have had an anchor of peace and stability in the Middle East, and that was the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. We hope that peace will be kept."

Morsi has been cool to Israel, but he has also shown himself to be surprisingly pragmatic. He has allowed military co-operation to continue and at times served as a moderating influence.

Egypt last year brokered a cease fire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that ended eight days of rocket fire and airstrikes. More recently, the Egyptian military has cracked down on arms smuggling into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The peace accord has allowed Israel's military to refocus its resources on volatile fronts with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.