Security cooperation between Israel and Egypt is just as good as it was before the President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year – but that does not necessarily mean Egypt will be successful in brokering a quick cease fire in the region’s current flare-up of violence, Jerusalem’s former ambassador to Cairo said Sunday.
“We have good communications with the Egyptian military and security apparatus,” said Yitzhak Levanon, who served as Israel’s ambassador from 2009 until 2011. “If the Egyptians wanted to play a role in this [conflict], they could get involved, because they also have good connections to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. But the fact that good communications exist between the three parties doesn’t say anything about how effective the Egyptians can be. They can try to work for a cease fire, but it doesn’t go from one minute to the next.”
Another former senior official, one-time IDF southern command head Yom Tov Samia, said Egypt was somewhat to blame for the escalation in violence in the south.
“Egypt has been playing the same game since 1967: Whenever they want to be the bad guy, they’re bad guys, when they want to be the good guys, they’re the good guys. This situation has to come to an end. Egypt cannot continue to play the good and the bad guy whenever it’s convenient for them.”
If Egypt would take more rigorous action to suppress the smuggling of arms into Gaza, Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups in the Strip would not be able to operate as they do now, he said.
“But once Hamas has so many weapons, they feel free to attack Israel, because they know when Israel will strike back, they can always call the good guys from Egypt, and the good guys from Egypt will help them broker a ceasefire with Israel,” he said.
After Israel on Friday assassinated the head of a Gaza terrorist group, Palestinians began firing rockets at Israel’s South, causing some 1 million citizens to flee to bomb shelters. Israel retaliated by attacking positions in Gaza, killing 25 Palestinians, among them reportedly one 12-year-old child.
Levanon, who represented Israel in Cairo during the time of the Tahrir Square demonstrations, said he believes that the current conflagration will end soon. “No one is interested in escalation,” he told The Times of Israel on Sunday.
He warned, however, that Palestinian terrorist groups are emboldened by the recent political changes in Egypt, which unseated Mubarak – who was interested in maintaining peace with Israel – and put Islamist factions in positions of power. During recent parliamentary elections – the Muslim Brotherhood and the hard-line Al-Nour party gained a comfortable majority.
“The Palestinians in Gaza – Islamic Jihad and the People’s Resistance Committee, these people are definitely thinking that the change in Egypt is in their favor and this is why they think they can permit themselves to launch more 120 missiles against Israel,” he said.
Israeli political analysts have long warned that the Sinai Peninsula could become a breeding ground for terrorism in the absence of the Mubarak regime, especially since Israel is careful not to be seen as interfering in Egyptian issues and is refraining from interfering on the state’s territory.
Levanon, too, is worried about the Sinai: “I am not sure whether the Egyptians are in complete control of the area,” he said. “I know that they are facing difficulties and that Sinai is slowly turning into a very explosive situation. This is very dangerous, both for the Egyptians and the Israelis.”
Samia, who was the commander of the IDF’s Southern Command between 1997 and 2001, also expressed great concern over the Gaza-Egypt border. Speaking with The Times of Israel on Sunday, he called upon Israel to regain military control of the Philadelphi Corridor, the 14-km route between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, which Israel relinquished after the 2005 Disengagement and which is currently controlled by Hamas.
“When we were there, the tunnels were so tiny that a man could hardly crawl through them. Today, camels and jeeps can pass through those tunnels, with missiles, lots of munitions and other goods,” he said, stressing that he was representing merely his private opinions and not those of the Israeli military or the government.
“At the end of the day, the IDF should and must take control again of Philadelphi and prevent the smuggling of weapons and missiles that Hamas uses to terrorize Israelis.”