|Israel plays waiting game, supports Egypt army’s actions against Islamists
Israel is quietly and carefully watching the turmoil in neighboring Egypt while maintaining close contacts with the Egyptian military amid concerns 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, AP reports.
The 1979 peace treaty, Israel's first with an Arab country, has been a cornerstone of regional security for three decades.
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.
“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, General 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 US 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.
The officials said the topic was discussed last week with the visiting chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of State, Gen Martin Dempsey.
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 today on a road in northern Sinai, Egyptian officials said.
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 US and European Union have criticized Egypt's crackdown on Morsi's supporters.
“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.