Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday he hopes the support shown by presidential candidates in Egypt for canceling the gas pipeline deal with Israel is motivated by electioneering rather than a desire to end the peace treaty.
“We want to believe that all the recent announcements are part of the election campaign and afterwards things will return to normal,” Lieberman said in an interview on Army Radio. “We will wait another month and a half until after the elections and see if things return to normal.
The foreign minister also said he believes that the cause of the current dispute over Egyptian gas supplies to Israel is commercial in nature and not part of a wider political split between the two countries.
“To make this into a political dispute would be a mistake,” Lieberman said. “The peace treaty is important to Israel and no less so to Egypt.”
Egypt unilaterally canceled its agreement to supply Israel with natural gas st the weekend, in a new indication of the steadily deteriorating relations between the countries.
Some leading Israeli politicians on Sunday characterized the cancellation as a major breach of the 1979 peace agreement, but the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and Egypt’s ruling military leadership both described the move as “commercial” rather than “political” and said it was rooted in a dispute over interrupted supplies and payments, and that the matter was being handled by arbitration.
Egyptian presidential hopefuls Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabahi both expressed their satisfaction regarding the canceled deal. “The Egyptian people do not want to export gas to Israel and the president must act according to their wishes,” said Fotouh.
“I hope this decision is permanent in order for Egypt to better guard its national resources,” said Sabahi on his Twitter account.
Egyptian parties to the 2005 gas supply agreement claimed Israel had not paid its bills for the gas, while their Israeli counterparts slammed the Egyptians for failing to maintain a stable supply — the pipeline has been repeatedly sabotaged — and for moving unilaterally to end the deal.
Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau said that the unilateral move by Egypt didn’t surprise him and noted that Israel began preparing for such a development even before the pipeline was first blown up last year.
“We rehearsed for this,” Landau told Army Radio. “Israel needs to be prepared.”
Landau dismissed claims that the dispute was purely commercial in nature. An agreement as significant as that of the gas supply line is under government control, he said.
“At the end of the day it is not just a commercial deal between companies; it is an important deal between two countries,” Landau said. “Something like this can’t happen without the knowledge of the Egytpian authorities. Nonetheless, we need to do everything to preserve the peace treaty with Egypt, of which the pipeline is an important part.”
Landau said he didn’t believe the absence of gas from Egypt would push up electricity prices in Israel but he did warn that it would worsen the country’s already precarious energy supply situation. Last week the Israel Electric Cooperation warned of a looming energy crisis in the comming summer.
Knesset Member and former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), who was deeply involved in Israel-Egypt relations in the past, told Army Radio that breaking the gas deal was severing a last link between the two countries.
“I see this as very serious,” Eliezer said. “The existence of the pipeline supported the peace treaty.”
Eliezer, who for some months has warned of possible conflict with Egypt, joined in the hope that the decision, taken during the rule of Egypt’s interim military leadership, would not be maintained after the elections when a permanent government is installed.
“The pipeline is a primary interest to Egypt, the same as for Israel,” he said, while also urging a drive towards achieving natural gas independence for Israel.