Israeli diplomats and AIPAC work hard to sustain Egypt's military rule

August 23, 2013
Sarah Benton

Here are five items on how military rule is becoming the hegemonic idea for managing disorder in the Egypt, Sinai, Gaza arc:
1) Josef Federman, AP: Israel quietly maintains ties with Egyptian army;
2) NY Times: Israel Escalating Efforts to Shape Allies’ Strategy;
3) Jewish Forward: Israel Supporters Divided on Cutting Military Aid to Egypt;
4) John Reed, FT: Israel and Egypt strengthen military ties over Sinai fears ;
5) Ha’aretz: Longing for Egypt’s General Sisi in Israel;

Border control: what joins the Israeli, Egyptian, American militaries.

Israel quietly maintains ties with Egyptian army

By Josef Federman, AP
August 19, 2013

JERUSALEM — Israel 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, officials said.

As the week’s death toll in Egypt rises, this alliance has put Israel in a delicate position. Wary of being seen as taking sides in the Egyptian military’s standoff against Islamist supporters of the ousted president, Israel also needs the Egyptian army to maintain quiet along their shared border — and to preserve a historic peace treaty.

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 U.S. 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 week’s bloodshed, in which the Egyptian troops killed hundreds of Morsi’s supporters who were rallying against the coup and demanding that he be reinstated.

Giora Eiland, retired Major-General, led the internal inquiry into the commando attack on the Mavi Marmara on which he praised the “professional and courageous” conduct of the soldiers. We Israelis share the same interests as the Egyptian military he says.

“Israel does not have to support the (Egyptian) regime, especially not publicly. It is not our place to defend all the measures taken, this is not our business,” said Giora Eiland, a former chairman of Israel’s National Security Council.

At the same time, Eiland suggested that international condemnations of the Egyptian military’s actions have been excessive. He said Israeli and Western interests are “much closer” to the interests of Egypt’s military leader, Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi and his secular allies.

“Even if we don’t share the same values, we can share the same interests,” he said. “The Israeli interest is quite clear. We want a stable regime in Egypt.”

“In the end of the day, the U.S. has to realize the real potential, reliable partner is the combination of the coalition of secular people in Egypt and the current military regime,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined comment but Israeli defense officials confirmed to The Associated Press that security cooperation with Egypt has continued over the past week.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff discusses Middle East security with Israel’s chief of staff  Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the topic was discussed last week with the visiting chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. They refused to discuss the content of the discussions.

The Israeli and Egyptian armies have worked closely in recent years to contain the common threat posed by al-Qaida-linked groups operating in Sinai. These groups have stepped up their activities since Mubarak was toppled, and even more so since Morsi was deposed.

In the latest attack, militants ambushed and killed 25 Egyptian policemen on Monday on a road in northern Sinai, Egyptian officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media. The militants forced two vehicles carrying policemen on leave to stop, ordered the men out and made them lie on the ground before they shot them to death, the officials said.

Early this month, Israel briefly closed its airport in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, next to the border with Sinai, in response to unspecified security warnings. The following day, five men believed to be Islamic militants were killed in what Egyptian security officials told the AP in Cairo was an Israeli drone attack. The site of the strike was about five kilometers (three miles) inside Egypt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief journalists.

Israel has maintained official silence about the strike, likely out of concerns about exposing Egypt’s military to domestic public backlash over a strike on Egyptian soil. Egypt’s government celebrates its battles fought against Israel over Sinai and despite the 1979 peace deal, many in Egypt still view the Jewish state with suspicion.

A week after the suspected drone strike, Israel intercepted an incoming rocket fired from Sinai at Eilat. An al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack.

Under the terms of the peace accord, Egypt must coordinate its military operations in northern Sinai with Israel. The Israelis are believed to have granted every request by Egypt to bring additional forces into the region, as long as all operations were closely coordinated. An international force helps monitor the terms of the treaty.

Israeli lawmaker Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and military chief of staff, said it was essential that peace and order be restored in Egypt.

“The issue of the peace treaty with Egypt is Israel’s highest interest. As long as the violence, and the confrontation between the army and the civilians and the bloodshed there increases, it endangers the peace treaty. We have an interest that life there is quiet,” he told Channel 2 TV.

The U.S. and European Union have criticized Egypt’s crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.

President Barack Obama has suspended a planned military exercise with Egypt, and U.S. Sen. John McCain has led a chorus of voices urging a halt in the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. sends to Egypt each year.

“For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for,” the Republican senator told CNN. “We’re not sticking with our values.”

Obama has not made a decision. But suggestions like McCain’s have raised concerns in Israel that tough U.S. action could shake the alliance with Egypt — and even prompt Egypt to retaliate against Israel.

“The Israeli and Egyptian security establishments are operating inside a bubble and, for the time being, there are no signs that relations between them have cooled,” wrote Alex Fishman, a military affairs commentator for the Yediot Ahronot daily. “But the Egyptian street is beginning to press, and the current regime is going to have to toss it a bone. Regrettably, it is going to be an Israeli bone it tosses.”

Israeli officials say the peace accord remains intact, and dismiss speculation that it could be threatened.

Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador in Egypt, told the AP the scenario of the Camp David accords unraveling was highly unlikely. He said it was highly doubtful the United States would cut off aid to Egypt and even if it did, he could not envision Egypt canceling the peace treaty.

“They have no interest in engaging in another conflict they have neither the time nor the energy for,” he said. “They need us now, with or without American aid.”

Later Monday, Israel issued a new travel warning for Sinai, urging its citizens to “refrain from visiting” the peninsula and to “leave the area immediately.”

The Sinai desert, with its pastoral coast, is a favourite vacation spot for Israelis.

Egyptian security forces stand by their armoured personnel carriers ahead of a military operation in the northern Sinai peninsula on 8 August 2012. Photo by AFP – Stringer

Israel Escalating Efforts to Shape Allies’ Strategy

By Jodi Rudoren,  NY Times
August 18, 2013

JERUSALEM — Israel plans this week to intensify its diplomatic campaign urging Europe and the United States to support the military-backed government in Egypt despite its deadly crackdown on Islamist protesters, according to a senior Israeli official involved in the effort.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of an edict from the prime minister not to discuss the Egyptian crisis, said Israeli ambassadors in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and other capitals would lobby foreign ministers. At the same time, leaders here will press the case with diplomats from abroad that the military is the only hope to prevent further chaos in Cairo.

With the European Union planning an urgent review of its relations with Egypt in a meeting Monday, the message, in part, is that concerns about democracy and human rights should take a back seat to stability and security because of Egypt’s size and strategic importance.

“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. “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,” the official added, “it’s army or anarchy.”

Israeli leaders have made no public statements and have refused interviews since Wednesday’s brutal clearing of two Muslim Brotherhood protest encampments. But even as the death toll climbed in ensuing gunfights in mosques and on streets, officials spoke frequently to members of Congress, officials at the Pentagon and State Department, and European diplomats.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who convened an emergency meeting of his inner cabinet Friday regarding Egypt, has not spoken since the crackdown to President Obama, who on Thursday rebuked the Egyptian government by canceling joint military exercises set for next month. But Mr. Netanyahu has discussed the situation with Secretary of State John Kerry; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was in Israel last week; and a visiting delegation of more than two dozen Republicans from Congress, led by the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.

General Dempsey and Israel’s military chief have also consulted on Egypt, as have Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart. Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, has been forcefully arguing for sustaining Washington’s $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt since the July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi by Egypt’s military commander, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

“Israel is in a state of diplomatic emergency,” Alex Fishman, a leading Israeli columnist, wrote in Sunday’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper. “It has been waging an almost desperate diplomatic battle in Washington.”

While Israel is careful to argue that Egypt is critical to broad Western interests in the Middle East, its motivation is largely parochial: the American aid underpins the 34-year-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, so its withdrawal could lead to the unraveling of the agreement. More immediately, Israel is deeply worried that Egypt’s strife could create more openings for terrorist attacks on its territory from the Sinai Peninsula.

At the same time, Israeli officials are aware that the aid package is one of the Obama administration’s biggest potential levers against Egypt’s military rulers — and a topic of debate within the White House.

“From the Israeli perspective it is security, security and security — and then other issues,” said Yoram Meital, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “The Obama administration took a stand that has a lot to do with universal values. Of course, killing hundreds of protesters in this brutal way should be condemned. If we study the Israeli perspective, then these universal values are secondary to the top priorities of security and security.”

Most Israeli experts on Egypt share the government’s support for the Sisi government and view Mr. Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement as a dangerous threat. But several said Israel’s diplomatic push was risky because it could promote a backlash in Egypt and across the Arab world and hurt Israel’s credibility as a democracy.

“This is a very big mistake to interfere in what happens in Egypt,” said Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and director of its new Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam.

Dr. Kedar invoked an old joke about a lifeguard kicking a boy out of a pool for urinating — from the diving board. “You can do things, but do them under the water,” he said. “Israel, by supporting explicitly the army, exposes itself to retaliation. Israel should have done things behind the scenes, under the surface, without being associated with any side of the Egyptian problem.”

But Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, praised Mr. Netanyahu’s government for “acting very discreetly,” and Yitzhak Levanon, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt until 2011, said the lobbying had not been aggressive.

“We are talking to a lot of friends,” said Mr. Levanon, who teaches a course on Egypt at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “Pushing? I don’t think that this is the word. We are expressing what we believe is best for the region.”

Mr. Shaked said that unlike the Obama administration and the European Union, Israel did “not have any illusions about the possibility of a democracy in Egypt.”

“I understand Washington and Europe with their criticism, but there is no alternative to letting the army in Egypt try by force,” he said. “We have to choose here not between the good guys and the bad guys — we don’t have good guys. It is a situation where you have to choose who is less harmful.”

The Israeli official who described the diplomatic campaign acknowledged that Washington’s suspension of the military exercises and Europe’s announcement Sunday that it would review its relations with Cairo did not signal success so far.

“It’s very important for us to make certain countries understand the situation as we see it,” the official said. “We do that with a sense of urgency. This is something we’re going to try and share with as many influential countries as we can this week.”

Israel Supporters Divided on Cutting Military Aid to Egypt

Deep Splits Emerge Over Crackdown — Despite AIPAC Push

By Nathan Guttman, Jewish Forward
August 21, 2013

WASHINGTON — The debate over whether the United States should continue military aid to Egypt is roiling Washington; pitting political idealists against realists; separating liberals, conservatives and neoconservatives — and dividing supporters of Israel.

Israel and the lobby backing it in the United States have made clear that they oppose suspension of aid to Cairo, fearing that it would endanger the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and undermine Egyptian forces that are cooperating with Israel. But some traditional backers of Israel, including political conservatives, are arguing in favor of punishing the Egyptian interim government for its bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, citing the need to take a moral stand even at the cost of ignoring concerns voiced by Israel.

In Egypt, the future of relations with Israel is largely viewed as marginal to the broader struggle over its national identity. But in the United States, the Israel issue has become one of the key arguments for maintaining aid to the controversial Egyptian regime.

The United States has provided Egypt with more than $71 billion since 1948. The majority of that aid has been delivered after Egypt signed the 1979 Camp David peace accords with Israel.

Though not a formal part of the accords, the aid was intended to serve as a sweetener and to compensate both sides for costs they’d incur as a result of signing the peace treaty. For Israel, those costs included relocating air forces bases from Sinai and redeploying along the new border; for Egypt, the aid was meant to boost its economy and to compensate for losing trade with the Arab League nations following its accord with Israel.

Originally, the aid was based on a 3-2 ratio in favor of Israel. In the past decade, the ratio has shifted even more toward Israel, which now receives double the aid given to Egypt.

“The Israelis reached the conclusion that the ratio set in 1979 inhibited the amount of the aid they can get,” said Graeme Bannerman, a former State Department official who later worked as a lobbyist for Egypt in Washington.

In the last fiscal year, America gave Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid and an additional $250 million in civilian economic assistance. The aid package is composed primarily of American-made weapon systems, including advanced F-16 fighters, Apache helicopters and Abrams tanks, as well as ammunition and spare parts. (Israel is permitted to spend a small part of its aid money on its own weaponry.)

Since the June 30 protests and the July 3 military ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel has signaled that it wants aid to Egypt maintained. Although Israeli officials were careful not to speak out directly about the internal strife in Egypt, unnamed government sources were quoted in the Israeli and international press in favor of upholding American aid and stressing the need to strengthen the Egyptian army.

Before the latest events, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee opposed cutting aid in a letter sent to leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Events in Egypt are rapidly evolving, and we believe that for now the United States should avoid taking any precipitous actions against Egypt, such as cutting off all assistance,” the letter stated.
The appeal was a response to a proposed amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, calling for a suspension of aid to Egypt because of the military coup. The amendment was tabled July 31 with only 13 senators, all Republicans, voting in favor.

But the bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Egypt shifted political views on the future of aid and led Israel and its supporters to abstain from making public statements.

Meantime, the neoconservatives who are usually on Israel’s side are split on this issue.

Douglas Feith, a former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Bush administration, told the Forward that he opposed cutting aid to Egypt because of America’s “certain affinity of interests with the [Egyptian] military.” But fellow neoconservative Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that U.S. law requires an immediate suspension of assistance to Egypt, though he does not rule out resuming aid in the future if Egyptian rulers met conditions set by the president and Congress.

And Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who hardly ever break ranks with AIPAC, issued a call demanding that the administration cut its aid to Egypt.

Israel’s key concern is that slashing aid to Egypt will undermine the country’s military, which has ensured quiet along the border for more than three decades. If American aid is cut, warned Karim Haggag, an Egyptian visiting professor at the National Defense University, “you might see a public debate on adhering to the peace treaty.”

This, Haggag noted, would not necessarily force an immediate decision on the future of relations with Israel, “but it opens the debate.”

On a formal level, since the aid package is not officially part of the Camp David accords, withholding assistance would not serve as a legal excuse for suspending Egypt’s commitments under the peace treaty.

Experts believe the peace treaty will survive a downgrade in American-Egyptian ties, mainly because maintaining peaceful relations with Israel is no less in Egypt’s interest than it is in the interest of Israel and the United States.
“The reason there is no armed conflict between Egypt and Israel is that [the Egyptians] think they’ll lose,” May said. “That understanding is what leads Egypt to keep its peace with Israel.”

Other observers agree that most parties in Egypt do not question the peace treaty with Israel because of the international and military price Egypt will have to pay for violating it. “I have no doubt the Egyptians will continue to honor the peace treaty with Israel because it is seen as good for Egypt,” Bannerman said.

American aid to Egypt, supporters of continuing assistance say, not only strengthens the Camp David accords but also empowers those who believe in peace with Israel. “Aid itself doesn’t promise anything,” Feith said, “but if you maintain the aid, it helps those who want to maintain the treaty with Israel.”

But Aaron Miller, a former State Department peace negotiator who now serves as vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, fears that cutting Egyptian aid would send a problematic message to Israel as it attempts to reach a similar accord with the Palestinians. That’s because, he argues, if America suspended foreign aid to Egypt, it may indicate that America cannot be trusted to keep its side of any deal.

“What would be Israel’s ability to make concessions on the Palestinian front if the bulwark of support for peace on the Egyptian front begins to break?” Miller asked.

Contact Nathan Guttman at or on Twitter @nathanguttman

Egyptian army near El-Arish in the Sinai peninsula, May 21, 2013. Photo by Reuters/Stringer

Israel and Egypt strengthen military ties over Sinai fears

By John Reed, Financial Times
August 19, 2013

Jerusalem–Israel is quietly stepping up its military co-operation with Egypt as both countries confront security threats from jihadist groups in the Sinai region, security officials and analysts said on Monday.

This came as suspected Islamist militants executed 25 Egyptian police conscripts in the north of the peninsula, near Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, the worst attack of its kind in recent memory. Monday’s incident came six days after Sinai-based jihadists claimed responsibility for firing a Grad rocket, which was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, at the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat.

“It seems that the Egyptian army is more willing to co-operate with the Israeli army over the last few weeks due to the collapse of the old regime,” said Ephraim Kam, a senior researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “Since then, the Egyptian army has been conducting more intensive operations in the Sinai.”

Egypt made a rare public acknowledgment of Israel’s role in enforcing regional security on Monday when Mustafa Hijazi, an adviser to Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour, told Russia al-Yawm, the Arabic-language Russian TV station, that it was “natural” for Israel to monitor events in a neighbouring country” against what he called “spillover”.
“It’s in the entire region’s interest,” he said.

Egypt and Israel, which signed a peace agreement in 1979, have long consulted on military issues, even during the government of deposed president Mohamed Morsi. Both countries saw common cause in fighting militants in the restive Sinai, which is about three times the size of Israel, the main transit point for Egyptian natural gas, and abuts Egyptian, Israeli and Jordanian tourist resorts on the Red Sea.

However, Israeli officials are privately welcoming the fall of Egypt’s Islamist government at a time when Israel’s regional security position has also been strengthened by the war against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and the weakening of its ally Hizbollah. Egypt’s coup has also politically isolated Hamas, the anti-Israel militant group, by depriving it of its biggest regional ally.

Government officials are remaining silent about the regime change for fear that any public remarks could have unintended consequences. “We need to sit on the sidelines and let the Egyptians do what they want and stay out of it,” one official said on Monday. “To be the responsible adult in the Middle East is not an easy thing.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office distanced itself from remarks made by anonymous Israeli officials to the New York Times and the Jerusalem Post asserting that Israeli diplomats would press other countries to support Egypt’s new military-supported government.

Israel was suspicious of Mr Morsi’s commitment to the peace treaty, with some officials fearing his government might abrogate the agreement once it strengthened its political power base and Egypt’s economy. The peace treaty is widely understood to be one of the main reasons the US is keeping its military aid to Egypt intact, even as the European Union considers suspending aid.

Since Mr Morsi’s overthrow, the Egyptian military has increased its operations in the Sinai, where the army has also closed down smuggling tunnels linking the peninsula to the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas. Israel has been working more closely with the Egyptian military than previously, analysts said.

“There is co-operation, at least on the practical level, between the Egyptian military and their Israeli counterparts in terms of sharing intelligence and allowing an Egyptian presence in the Sinai peninsula that is much larger than what was written in the peace agreement,” said Aviv Oreg, a reservist in Israeli military intelligence, where he formerly headed the unit’s al-Qaeda and global jihad desk. An Israel Defence Forces spokesman declined to comment.

A disputed incident earlier this month in which four members of a Sinai-based Islamist group were killed points to some of the biggest military operations in the peninsula since the Camp David agreement. The group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis said its members were killed by an Israeli drone strike, but the IDF did not comment on the attack, and Egypt’s army said it carried it out itself.

At the same time, Israel is vigilant about any increased risk to Eilat, whose tourist industry would be vulnerable in the event of a successful rocket attack from the Sinai.

Israeli authorities briefly closed down Eilat’s airport two weeks ago for several hours, without giving a reason. Eilat was hit by two rockets fired from the Sinai in April.

Longing for Egypt’s General Sisi

After years of degeneration, enlightened Israeli society has lost the ability to act within the parameters of democracy and absorb the principle of majority rule. It no longer knows how to love and respect the people. But no enlightened general will rescue us.

By Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz
July 11, 2013

The new Israeli hero is an Egyptian figure − General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. You don’t need an especially discerning eye to see the Israeli elite’s deep sympathy and barely concealed admiration for the commander of our large southern neighbor’s armed forces. The one who has just imprisoned the elected president who appointed him to his position.

While the U.S. administration’s stomach is turning at the headlong collision between General al-Sisi’s undemocratic enlightenment and Mohammed Morsi’s unenlightened democracy, Israel has no doubts. We’re all for Sisi. We’re all for the military coup d’etat. We’re all for the right of clean-shaven generals who were educated in America to end the rule of an elected, bearded leader, who was also educated in America and who was supposed to subordinate the generals to his authority.

The Israeli yearning for Sisi is two-fold. Looking out, we seek friendly dictators who will rule the hostile Arab masses surrounding us. But when we look in, many of us long for a supreme commander of our own who will limit the powers of the elected political leadership we loathe.

Egyptian army truck carries tank to Rafah, land gateway to Gaza

Al-Sisi informed Israel of the coup three days prior; fifth item in multi-post

Israel and Egypt, ‘security’ trumps all, July 2013

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