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A stable Egypt is not in Israel's interests

January 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Media reports in Israel suggest that the government there would be very happy to see the back of Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi. One Israeli commentator on Arab issues told Israel Army Radio this week that it doesn’t take a genius to see that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “looking to oust” Morsi. “His stand during Israel’s war on Gaza last November hurt Israeli pride,” added Jack Kochi.

If Israel’s democratic credentials are genuine, you would think that it would be happy to see a fledgling democracy taking shape next door in Egypt, but you would be wrong, apparently. Morsi’s government came to power after the ousting of a regime which had long-protected Israel politically in the region, acting as a physical and metaphorical buffer. Egypt under Hosni Mubarak kept rigidly to the terms of the Camp David Accord peace treaty with Israel, maintaining political, cultural and economic relations while giving up the right to keep more than a very limited number of security forces in the Sinai Peninsula to the benefit of Israel’s security. Israel, of course, has a heavy military presence on its side of the fence as well as a string of well-placed collaborators across Egypt.

Luxurious holiday resorts in Egypt played host to thousands of Israeli tourists every year. Internal dissent about this was dealt with harshly by Mubarak’s henchmen.

Even though the democratically-elected government led by Morsi has promised to keep Camp David, the Israelis have bemoaned loudly and clearly the loss of their “strategic treasure” Mubarak.

If the rumours are true, Israel is not only waiting for Morsi to lose an election but is also hard at work trying to undermine his government. Democracy and its institutions mean little in this context because there is no guarantee that another Islamist government will not win an early election in Egypt, which the opposition groups are calling for. Democratic elections tend to bring out governments which represent the people and Israel knows very well that the majority of Egyptians resent the one-sided nature of Camp David, which was signed and imposed on them by an authoritarian regime. People of all political hues were in the mob which destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

Thus, Israel recognises that any stable Egyptian government will sooner or later follow the popular mood of the people, who sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of the Zionist state and have been calling since the January 25 Revolution for all relations with Tel Aviv to be cut. In fact, many of Egypt’s young revolutionaries said that cutting ties with Israel was a prime demand of the revolution itself. Israel’s former ambassador to Cairo, Eli Shaked, told the Israeli media in the wake of the “retirement” of the head of Egypt’s Supreme Military Council: “This [cutting ties with Israel] is actually the demand that is coming from the people in the street.”

This mood “on the street” reflects the fact that the “strategic ties” between Israel and Egypt have been “limited to government circles”, as veteran Israeli political analyst Gil Yaron put it. Israel, he added, feared the outcome of democratic change in Egypt because it could bring those ties to an end.

If the rumours are to be believed Israel is not only working to undermine President Morsi and his government but also to foment unrest on the streets of the capital and other major cities across Egypt. The aim, it is claimed, is to push Egypt’s generals into stepping in and re-imposing military rule. A Western-backed “state of emergency” would suit Israel very nicely because those in charge would have a free hand to suppress popular freedoms under the pretext that it is in the state’s interests to do so.

Israel’s Channel 2 television revealed recently that Netanyahu ordered members of his cabinet to express dissatisfaction over what is going on in Egypt. That move alone suggests that there is more to the rumours of Israeli dirty tricks at play on the streets of Cairo than anyone is prepared to admit. A stable Egypt is not in Israel’s interests, and it could be doing everything possible to ensure that those interests overrule Egyptian democracy.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.