President Mohammed Morsi’s sudden deposition of Cairo’s military elite on Sunday has created an uncertain period for Egyptian-Israeli relations, according to a senior diplomatic source quoted on Israel Radio on Monday.
While the new military leadership is aware of the need to cooperate with Israel on security issues, it may not be aware of the “vitality” that characterized the connection between IDF officials and the former leaders of Egypt’s defense establishment, the official said.
The source went on to say that Jerusalem is watching developments in Cairo with “great concern.” Since Morsi’s government doesn’t communicate with Israel, little can be known of Egypt’s plans, the source complained.
Although newly-instated Defense Minister Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi has not opened communication channels with Israel since assuming his post on Sunday, he spoke on Monday with Hamas’s Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, who congratulated al-Sisi on his new appointment. Haniyeh reportedly pledged that Hamas would continue to maintain security and cooperation ties between Gaza and Egypt.
Earlier on Monday, a senior official in Jerusalem told Maariv that the changes ordered by Morsi will not harm security collaboration between the Israeli and Egyptian armed forces.
Assuaging fears that unfamiliar military leaders in Cairo might not cooperate with Israel, the official said that defense minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi’s replacement, al-Sisi, “is well acquainted with Israel’s security elite — from Defense Ministry Policy Director Amos Gilad, to the prime minister’s special envoy Yitzhak Molcho, and of course Defense Minister Ehud Barak.”
Gilad and Molcho met with al-Sisi during recent visits to Cairo, and al-Sisi also met IDF Planning Directorate chief Maj. Gen. Nimrod Shefer during his two visits to Egypt this summer, Maariv reported.
Israel was surprised Sunday by Morsi’s ouster of military strongman Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami Anan and other security chiefs, and is wary of the consequences of the power play, other Israeli security sources said, following Sunday’s “civilian coup.”
The move cemented Morsi’s authority over the armed forces in what was seen as a move similar to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ouster of dozens of his generals. However, Erdogan achieved control over the army in a gradual process; Morsi has done so in a matter of days.
An unnamed Israeli official was quoted on the Walla news site as saying that the immediate consequence of the shake-up was that no one in senior Egyptian military positions would now dare take any steps that they feared would not find favor with the Muslim Brotherhood president. Such a shift would inevitably adversely affect Israel, given that Tantawi and Anan were in close ongoing contact with their Israeli counterparts. The two also had long-term relations with senior American officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Morsi, by contrast, has not acknowledged any direct contact with Israel since his election two months ago. He sent a brief letter of thanks to President Shimon Peres last month, in response to two missives from Peres. But when the President’s Office publicized the letter, Morsi’s spokesman denied having sent it.
Israel’s leading Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari described Morsi’s move Sunday as a “civilian coup” against the army. The move underlined the new reality that the president and army no longer rule Egypt jointly, but rather that the army is now subject to the orders of the presidency, Yaari said.
Morsi was said Sunday to be preparing to launch an intensified crackdown on terrorist cells in the Sinai, a week after Islamist terrorists killed 16 Egyptian security force troops at their base near the Israel border, commandeered an armored vehicle and smashed across the border into Israel, where they were blown up by the Israel Air Force.
Israel last week gave Egypt permission to deploy forces in excess of limitations set out in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in order to carry out the crack down. “The question is, after the military operation, will Morsi take the troops back out again,” said Yaari.
Political sources in Jerusalem said that if Morsi’s new appointees do not cooperate with Israel, then Israel will start to take independent action to thwart terrorist attacks from Sinai, Channel 10 reported.