‘Back Egypt or risk peace talks,’ says Israeli official to US

Israeli source says Washington must support military-backed Egyptian government if negotiations stand any chance of moving forward

An Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that if the US would not back the interim Egyptian government, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be at risk.

The unnamed Israeli source spoke to the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent Charles Levinson, telling him that Washington must back the Egyptian military or “good luck with your peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians,” — a conversation the reporter recounted on Wall Street Journal Live.

“The Israeli position Saudi and Egypt have historically and still today played very crucial roles in supporting negotiations, in giving the Palestinians the support they need to stay in negotiations, to make concessions,” Levinson said of the conversation.

“This official basically said, ‘Look, if you alienate Egypt and if you lose Saudi [Arabia] — good luck seeing any progress in the peace talks,’” he added.

Earlier Monday, the New York Times reported that Israel was mounting a diplomatic effort to urge the US and Europe to support the military-backed government in Egypt despite its crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The report quoted a senior Israeli official involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative?” the official explained in the report. “If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.

“At this point,” he added, “it’s army or anarchy.”

Israeli officials have said that the country is quietly and carefully watching the turmoil in neighboring Egypt while maintaining close contacts with the Egyptian military amid concerns that the escalating crisis could weaken their common battle against Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

The 1979 peace treaty, Israel’s first with an Arab country, has been a cornerstone of regional security for three decades. It has allowed Israel to divert resources to volatile fronts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. For Egypt, it opened the way to billions of dollars in US military aid.

Although diplomatic relations have never been close, the two militaries have had a good working relationship. These ties have only strengthened since longtime President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising two and a half years ago. With both armies battling extremist Jihadi groups in the Sinai Peninsula, near the Israeli border, Israeli security officials often say that relations with their Egyptian counterparts are stronger than ever.

With so much at stake, Israel has remained quiet since the Egyptian military ousted Mubarak’s Islamist successor, Mohammed Morsi, in a coup on July 3. Morsi, who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group considered the parent organization of militant Palestinian Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip and is a bitter enemy of Israel.

Israel has not commented on this past week’s bloodshed, in which the Egyptian troops killed hundreds of Morsi supporters who were rallying against the coup and demanding that he be reinstated.

The United States, for its part, has condemned the violence on both sides in Egypt but has stopped short of freezing economic aid to the country, worth some $1 billion annually. Although Washington cancelled a planned joint military exercise, members of Congress have remained split on whether to halt economic assistance to Egypt.

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