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Israel and Egypt, ‘security’ trumps all

This posting has these items:
1)Anshel Pfeffer: Four reasons why Israel may miss Morsi after all , security X four;
2) Egypt Independent: Policing the Sinai, Egyptian forces in the Sinai, August 2012;
3) Egypt Independent: Experts see Morsy’s delegation to Sisi as response to Gaza escalation, why al-Sisi?, November 2012;
4) Amos Harel: Israel keeping arm’s length from Egyptian unrest, Israel confident joint security concerns will preserve status quo;
5) Globes: Israel fears US may suspend Egyptian aid, Israeli fear that US may put democracy before security;
6) Times of Israel:“‘Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation not at risk’ following forced resignation of top brass”, Morsi sacks military commanders, installs al-Sisi, August 2012;
7) Stratfor: Egypt: Persistent Issues Undermine Stability, economic, political background, August 2012;

Egyptian forces patrol the Sinai-Israel border. Photo by Ahmed Gomaa/AP

Four reasons why Israel may miss Morsi after all

Egypt’s president is no Zionist, but will Israel truly benefit from his ouster?

By Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz
July 03, 2013

As Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi remains effectively powerless after the ultimatum set by Egypt’s army expired on Wednesday, it was hard not to sense the levels of satisfaction in Israel. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the cabinet to keep quiet about the crisis in Cairo, there is little doubt that the ministers are delighted with the latest twist in the Egyptian saga.

But should they be?

Morsi, of course, is no Zionist. The word “Israel” has never passed his lips in public and his spokesman denies he ever sent President Shimon Peres aletter of thanks after the latter congratulated him on his election last year. However, his year of presidency has not harmed Israeli-Egyptian relations. Quite the contrary.

Here are four reasons why Israel could still end up missing Morsi:

1. Under Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood did the unthinkable when it affirmed the Camp David peace accords with Israel. Its leaders did talk of amending the treaty but they continued to uphold it, just as Hosni Mubarak’s regime did before. Muslim Brotherhood members and government ministers may not have not with Israeli officials, but on the most crucial level for Israel – the security channels – cooperation was maintained and even improved, Israeli defense sources said, after a rocky period following Mubarak’s fall.

Morsi’s tenure was the first in which a large and popular Egyptian party that was elected in a democratic process supported, even if begrudgingly, the peace treaty with Israel, and justified it to the Egyptian people.

2. Israel feared that when in power, the Muslim Brotherhood – the ideological forebear of Hamas – would back the Palestinian Islamist movement and encourage it to launch missiles against Israel, while threatening Israel not to retaliate. Though, for a time, Hamas thought it was immuned, the Morsi administration actually did not try to stop Israel from launching Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last year, in which Hamas’ military leadership and infrastructure was severely damaged. Morsi was also successful in achieving a swift ceasefire that has engendered for the past eight months – an unprecedented period of calm in southern Israel – which is now being adroitly observed and enforced by Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood has reined in Hamas in a degree that never existed during Mubarak’s time.

3. In Mubarak’s day, the Egyptian army failed to act decisively against smuggling operations in Sinai, and from there through underground tunnels, into Gaza. For the Egyptians, this was an opportunity to create regional balance between Israel and the Palestinians, while keeping the Bedouin tribes who control the smuggling satisfied.

Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai peninsula. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

Since Mubarak’s fall, chaos has reigned in Sinai. But over the past year, under Morsi’s rule, the army has been sent on more focused and forceful operations against Al-Qaida elements that have taken over parts of the peninsula, and more importantly for Israel, it has demolished large numbers of smuggling tunnels. The closeness between Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas has made Egypt more determined to fight extreme Islamists in Sinai and Gaza, as well as smuggling of arms.

4. Despite fears of a rapprochement between Iran and Egypt following the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victories, the differences between Sunni Egypt and Shia Iran have widened under Morsi, and any chance of cooperation now seems very remote. Instinctively, the Brotherhood identifies with the Sunni rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime.Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Syria on Assad’s side has made the government in Cairo an implacable foe of the Lebanese militia.

Morsi’s Egypt is firmly in the anti-Iran camp. Prolonged political chaos in Cairo will attract the West’s attention away from the civil war in Syria and help Iran and its allies to continue propping up the Assad regime.

Policing the Sinai

Security officials have found leaflets that were disseminated in Sheikh Zuwayed in Northern Sinai urging citizens to fight against the Armed Forces, the police, the judiciary, political parties and tribal leaders. The police also found communications equipment, a color printer, a scanner and a small plane that operates by remote control, which could be used as an explosive. A campaign began last week to restore security and stability in Sinai, following an attack by militants near the Rafah checkpoint earlier this month. Israel handed over the bodies of the attackers to Egypt, saying Israeli forces had killed them after they crossed the border. From Egypt Independent, Aug. 16, 2012

Then-President Morsi meets his new appointment of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, August 2012. Less than a year later, al-Sisi announces the removal of Morsi from office. Al Sisi worked closely with Israeli security forces in policing the Sinai and Gaza strip in the interests of excluding political and criminal challenges.

Experts see Morsy’s delegation to Sisi as response to Gaza escalation

By Mai Shams El-Din, Egypt Independent
November 211, 2012

President Mohamed Morsy’s decision to authorize Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to mobilize army troops raised suspicions that he may be slowly handing back power to the new coterie of military generals.

Experts, however, say it is normal in light of the escalating Israeli aggression against neighboring Gaza and the possibility of a spillover effect on Egypt’s borders.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a ceasefire Wednesday evening after meeting with Morsy in Cairo to discuss the situation in Gaza. Clinton was coming from Israel where she met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although denied by military sources, Morsy’s decision 356/2012 was published in the official newspaper on 17 November, delegating his authority to mobilize troops, based on Law 87/1960, to the defense minister for one year.

Tarek Fahmy, an expert in security studies, tells Egypt Independent the move does not translate into Morsy relinquishing power to the military generals, adding that it is a routine decision in light of “news of a possible ground assault by the Israeli forces” in Gaza.

Ousted President Hosni Mubarak took a similar decision in 2010, as reported in several media sources, but without specifying the reasons. In November 2011, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) delegated its former head, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi with the authority to declare war and mobilize army troops.

Morsy sent Tantawi and the army’s chief of staff Sami Anan to retirement in August and cancelled an addendum to a constitutional declaration that granted the military wide executive and legislative powers.

The president’s contentious move was highly debated, but widely perceived as a way of taking back power from the then-ruling military council, and more critically so from Egypt’s first civilian president.

While it was seen by some as a historic shift in the relationship between civilians and the military junta in power for almost 60 years, others saw it as a mere cosmetic change.

Former general Safwat El-Zayyat says the timing of this week’s decision signals a significant political statement given the concern of a wide ground assault on Gaza that may extend to Area C between the Israeli and Egyptian borders.

According to the Camp David Accords, Israeli forces are not allowed any access to Area D.

IDF sources have repeatedly confirmed in media reports that a possible ground assault would be wider than the 2008 operation, Cast Lead, which may translate, according to Zayyat, to a possible attack against Karm Abu Salem crossing and the adjacent Philadelphi route.

“Egypt needs to be ready and assigning Sisi this mission is necessary because if Israel attacks Egyptian land, it is easier for the defense minister to carry out this,” he adds.

Morsy still reserves the authority to declare war, which is wholly different from mobilizing troops, Zayyat says.

Israel keeping arm’s length from Egyptian unrest

As Israel monitors the severe crisis unfolding in Egypt, channels of coordination between the Egyptian military and its intelligence and Israel’s security forces continue to operate. The two sides work to stabilize Sinai and maintain calm along Gaza border.

By Amos Harel, Ha’aretz
July 04, 2013

Channels of coordination between the Egyptian military and its intelligence and Israel’s security forces continued to operate this week, despite the severe crisis in Cairo. The two sides continued to cooperate with regard to stabilizing the situation in Sinai and maintaining calm between Israel and Hamas along its border with the Gaza Strip.

In a prearranged move, Israel recently agreed that Egypt deploy more troops in Sinai to prevent clashes with bands of extremist Islamic activists operating among the region’s Bedouins. Egypt continues on a daily basis to mediate between Israel and Hamas to resolve incidents along the border fence and quash any possible escalation, as happened last week when Islamic Jihad fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Negev.

But as far as is known, a decision by the Egyptian army to confront the Muslim Brotherhood government directly has not been discussed with the Israel Defense Forces brass. Israel is being careful to avoid even the appearance of interference with events in Egypt. Hamas is also trying to demonstrate good will toward Egypt. Egyptian security forces have recently asked Hamas to prevent any passage of people from Gaza to Sinai via the Rafah tunnels, out of fear that extremist activists will pour oil on the fire of the struggle in Egypt. Hamas acceded immediately to the request.

Israeli is monitoring the drama unfolding in Egypt mostly by watching the media coverage and analyzing responses in the social media. At the moment, the crisis has no immediate security implications for Israel. In Sinai, special care must be taken for fear that armed Islamic groups will take advantage of the chaos to carry out attacks on the border with Israel. The Gaza Strip is more likely to show restraint. Hamas, which hopes the Muslim Brotherhood survives, now depends more than ever on Egypt. It seems that it has no interest at this time in sparking a flare-up with Israel.

In recent weeks the Egyptian army has shown increasing determination to take control of events in the country. Last night, Egypt underwent a military coup, even if the military leadership is signaling that such moves are only temporary. But it is hard to say that Israel hoped the Muslim Brotherhood would fall. In contrast to earlier predictions, and despite the clear ideological animus of the Muslim Brotherhood toward Israel, senior IDF officers say security coordination between the two countries over the past year has been better than it was during the Mubarak rule. The improvement is attributed to the efforts and interests of the Egyptian security branches, but the fact is that the Muslim Brotherhood has allowed security cooperation to flourish.

Assuming that the Egyptian military is successful at taking the reins, there will also be strategic implications for Israel. The most essential involves the nature of the ties between Cairo and Gaza. The ideological identification of the Muslim Brotherhood with Hamas has allowed Egypt to extend its patronage over Hamas and to bend Hamas to its policies. It is hard to know whether these ties will persist when the rulers in Cairo change.

Looking at it from Israel, the clearest phenomenon over the past few days is the magnitude of the split in the Egyptian people. At the moment it seems that quarreling is between two camps, almost equal in size and with boundless hatred for each other. The risk of major bloodshed is growing and it is very possible that weeks will pass before the situation stabilizes. Egypt’s problem is that even if an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood regime emerges, the basic problems of the Egyptians will still be there: a crying lack of investment, the death of tourism, damage to the individual security of Egypt’s citizens, and above all the need to feed and provide livelihoods for more than 80 million people every day. Even Mohammed Morsi’s ouster will solve none of these problems, which seem too big for any regime to cope with.

Israel fears US may suspend Egyptian aid

Israel is concerned that cutting US aid to Egypt because of a military coup could jeopardize the peace treaty.

By Ran Dagoni, Globes
July 04, 2013

WASHINGTON–Israel is concerned that the Obama administration will suspend the $1.3 billion annual military aid to Egypt following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, and that suspension of aid could jeopardize the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Israel may ask the US to find a way to continue the aid program, even though US law bans financial aid to regimes that seized power in a coup, US sources told “Globes” yesterday.

The sources familiar with the complicated three-way US-Egyptian-Israeli relationship said that keeping the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was one of the pillars of the Morsi government. The US Congress, which controls the purse strings, was suspicious, and even hostile, to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Its agreement, albeit with gritted teeth, to keep the peace treaty with Israel, was one of the main reasons why the pro-Israeli Congress agreed to continue aid to Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Israel hopes that the Obama administration will understand the importance of aid to Egypt for maintaining stability in the Middle East, said the sources. In a statement yesterday, US President Barack Obama said that he had ordered a review of aid to Egypt in view of the developments in Cairo.

Morsi’s ouster puts Obama in a bind: should the US, which sees itself as the world’s leading democracy, support democracy as an institution and process, or a democratically elected leader who abused the process to seize dictatorial power and trample his political opponents? Should the democratic process trump everything else, including its self-destruction?
This dilemma forces the White House to ask the following question: does Morsi’s ouster reflect the will of the people, and is therefore a democratic act, which excuses his ouster by the military, which was carrying out the people’s will? Morsi won 52% of the vote in legitimate elections a year ago. Is it conceivable that Obama’s opponents would march on Washington and demand that the US Army oust him because they do not like his governmental decisions?

In other words, was Morsi ousted in a military coup, or in a popular revolution? The difference will not just determine the Obama administration’s support of the interim government and its successor, but the continuation of US military aid to Egypt.

The response by the White House to the upheaval in Cairo last night, the eve of US Independence Day, came after hours-long discussions by top political, military, and legal officials in Washington. The response indicates that the Obama administration has not yet a cohesive answer to these issues. The announcement expresses concern, if not anxiety, that the US will be perceived in the world as the power which legitimizes violent coups and turns its back on democratic processes. The writers went out of their way to stress that the US felt uncomfortable with the way Morsi was ousted, even if he was not an ideal democrat.

“The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law,” said Obama. He added, “We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters. Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under US law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.”

“No transition to democracy comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people. An honest, capable and representative government is what ordinary Egyptians seek and what they deserve. The longstanding partnership between the United States and Egypt is based on shared interests and values, and we will continue to work with the Egyptian people to ensure that Egypt’s transition to democracy succeeds.

Commentators say that the Obama administration will find it difficult to keep the aid program to Egypt following Morsi’s ouster, because of the explicit provisions of the law. The law requires the suspension of US military aid to allied countries if there is evidence that the military ousted a democratically elected government. The question of how the White House will define Morsi’s ouster – military coup or popular uprising – is therefore critical.

Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont), the chairman of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, told “Politico” that the law was clear. “US aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree.” He added that his committee will “review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture. As the world’s oldest democracy, this is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that transfers of power should be by the ballot, not by force of arms.”

Leahy acknowledged that Morsi was a “disappointment” to many. “He squandered an historic opportunity, preferring to govern by fiat rather than work with other political parties to do what is best for all Egyptians.”

In expectation of a tough argument with the US, a top Egyptian official who had severed his ties with Morsi, said, “When the army responds to the calls of 17 million citizens who came out on to the streets over the past five days with the demand for new presidential elections, this is not a coup. This is an uprising.”

‘Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation not at risk’ following forced resignation of top brass

President Morsi’s ouster of familiar military figures heightens uncertainty over relations with Cairo

By Stuart Winer and Greg Tepper, Times of Israel
August 13, 2012

President Mohammed Morsi’s sudden deposition of Cairo’s military elite on Sunday will not harm security collaboration between the Israeli and Egyptian armed forces, a senior official in Jerusalem told Maariv on Monday.

Assuaging fears that unfamiliar military leaders in Cairo might not cooperate with Israel, the official said that Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi’s replacement, Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi, “is well acquainted with Israel’s security elites — 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 acknowledged no direct contact with Israel since his election two months. 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 ever sending it.

Israel’s leading Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari described Morsi’s move Sunday as a “civilian coup” against the army. The move underlined that the president and the army are no longer running Egypt together, but rather that the army is subject to the orders of the presidency, Yaari said.

Morsi was said Sunday to be about to launch an intensified crackdown on terrorist cells in the Sinai, a week after Islamist terrorists killed 16 Egyptian security forces 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.

Egypt: Persistent Issues Undermine Stability

By Stratfor Global Intelligence
July 04, 2013 
Egypt’s crisis goes much deeper than the recent political chaos. With the leader of the Supreme Constitutional Court taking over the presidency at the behest of the military, the new government will likely represent a coalition of interests facing many of the same challenges that brought about Mohammed Morsi’s downfall. Egypt’s population has grown well beyond the means of the state to support its needs, and even a strong state will struggle to ensure sufficient supplies of basic staples, particularly fuel and wheat.
Underlying the question of what political structure will emerge from this week’s crisis, the fundamental fact is that Egypt is running out of money. Dwindling foreign reserves point to a negative balance of payments that is sapping central bank resources. At the same time, Egypt’s reliance on foreign supplies of fuel and wheat is only growing. Egyptian petroleum production peaked in 1996 and the country first became a net importer in 2007. Government fuel subsidies are an enormous burden on state finances and, throughout the past year, failures to pay suppliers and a shortage of foreign exchange available to importers have caused supply shortfalls and price spikes throughout the country.
The government has a few options, including backing off subsidies in hopes that higher prices will help reduce consumption and therefore cut down on the net drain on state finances. That route carries a high risk of a major political backlash, so it is more likely that the government will continue, if not increase, its commitment to using state funds to guarantee sufficient supply and low prices.
The second major challenge stems from Egypt’s extreme vulnerability to international food markets. Though dire warnings of food shortages have been frequent in the media, they have not yet appeared with any significant frequency within Egypt. However, this is not to say that they will not eventually appear. Bread is a staple of the Egyptian diet, and Egypt relies on imports for more than half of its wheat consumption. Although farmland within Egypt is increasingly dedicated to growing wheat, there is simply not enough arable land for Egypt to feed its population.
In fact, although Egypt is a vast country geographically, most of it is uninhabitable desert. Population growth is accelerating in Egypt’s densely packed urban centers, threatening to worsen these underlying challenges. Population growth in 2012 hit its highest levels since 1991, reaching 32 births per 1,000 people and bringing the country’s population to 84 million, according to initial government estimates. This represents an increase of 50 percent from 1990, when the population was just 56 million. Egypt’s fertility rate is currently 2.9 children per woman and is expected to remain above the replacement ratio of 2.1 for at least the next two decades. As a result, the United Nations projects the Egyptian population to exceed 100 million by 2030. This means that Egypt will have a growing pool of young people of working age in the coming decades, creating substantial challenges for the Egyptian state to provide them with economic opportunities, or at the least sufficient basic goods.
Ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak faced similar problems, and growing poverty and joblessness are arguably among the root causes of the uprising in 2011 that unseated him. The wave of protests that challenged Morsi, who became the first democratically elected president in the country’s history, should be understood as a continuation of this swelling trend. While previous governments in Egypt have been able to leverage strategic rent from foreign countries interested in maintaining stability in Egypt, which is the linchpin between the Middle East and North Africa and the manager of the Suez Canal, the country has become increasingly peripheral to the strategic needs of major powers.
As a result, although Egypt has been able to secure some limited funding from regional players such as Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya, it remains locked in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over some broader, more sustainable financial relief. It is possible that the new government will find a level of stability that the increasingly isolated Muslim Brotherhood leadership was unable to sustain in the face of rising disputes with former coalition partners and a firmly obstructionist judiciary. However, the military’s decision to unseat Morsi underlined the instability inherent in Egypt’s political system and may make it even more difficult for Egypt to return to the good graces of financial markets or Western powers. In any case, mounting demographic and economic pressures mean that the job of managing Egypt’s economic challenges will become incrementally more difficult with each passing year and for each faction that occupies the presidential palace.
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