Previously, many prominent Israelis expressed delight that Israel had been very fortunate because Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was able to seize power in Egypt. They even described him as a strategic ally and the protector of the “Camp David” agreement. But this situation has changed in more recent days as there has now been concern over the fate of Israel’s Sisi ally.
Close Israeli monitoring of internal Egyptian affairs exposes numerous dangers that threaten the Egyptian regime in many ways. The first among these has been the deteriorating economic and living conditions and the growing resentment among the Egyptian youth toward the political system. For this reason, Israel quickly took the initiative of intensifying economic, military, intelligence and political aid to the Sisi regime in order to empower it. Israel even went as far as holding the United States responsible for abandoning the Egyptian regime and called on the Americans to dedicate more resources in order to support the Sisi regime.
Israel expects the collapse of the Egyptian regime
Israel is overwhelmed by a state of anxiety because of the threats surrounding the Egyptian regime. These threats may very well lead to the regime’s inability to endure for another year. The loss of Sisi, who is linked to Israel via a mesh of close relations and through an unprecedented security alliance, would be a disaster. After all, this is the regime that confronted the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and acted firmly against the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s own Sinai, which is a geographic region that arouses much concern in terms of Israeli security.
Israeli research, most notably the studies undertaken by the Military Intelligence Unit, concludes that “Israel adopts the assumption that continuing political support and guaranteeing the influx of economic aid to the Egyptian regime is important. After all, it is by virtue of this support and this aid that the likelihood of its collapse is minimised.”
Arab affairs commentator for the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Samdar Perry, stressed that: “Concern dominates decision making circles in Tel Aviv over the fate of Sisi’s regime. Tel Aviv realises that the Sisi regime is going through security, economic, political and diplomatic crises.” She went on to say: “Sisi’s problems are increasing and his security agencies are no longer able to confront internal conflicts. In addition, corruption is rampant and there is a loss of confidence by the Egyptians in the Sisi regime.”
Previously, Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant considered that instability in Egypt had serious repercussions that surpass in their seriousness the deterioration of the situations in both Iraq and Lebanon. He said: “It is in the interest of Israel and the United States to continue supporting the current regime in Egypt. Sisi is more liberal that the deposed president Mohamed Morsi who was democratically elected. He is the right man in the right position. However, he is facing very tough problems. Therefore, Israel should intervene for the sake of Egypt.”
Commenting on the Egyptian move aimed at reviving the negotiations, columnist Yoni Ben-Menachem concluded that Sisi may meet the same fate as the late Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat. In an article published in the news website News ON, Ben-Menachem added that “the Egyptian objective of the recent political dynamic was to deny Turkey any foothold in the Gaza Strip and to restore to Cairo its historic role in leading the Arab world via the door of the Palestinian cause.” Ben-Menachem, a former officer in Israeli military intelligence, added: “In the wake of Sisi’s recent speech, in which he called for the revival of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, threats were made against him from the Muslim Brotherhood and [Daesh], and because of this his fate is likely to be very similar to that of the late Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat.”
Exiting the Saudi Axis
Israel was delighted recently due to the alliance forged between the Egyptian regime and Saudi Arabia. The association of Israeli ally Sisi with what Israel considers to be an “Axis of Moderation” enhances the vitality of the Arab regional powers that are opposed to Iran and maximises the impact of the confrontation against Iran.
However, the Israeli happiness was not to last after the eruption of the Saudi-Egyptian crisis that has weakened Sisi politically and economically, thus prompting Egypt to open up to Iran, Russia and China. From Israel’s point of view, such an opening will lead to a disruption in the strategic balance in the region especially after Sisi lost Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran to be the primary threat to its security, just as Israel does.
A report prepared by the Jerusalem Centre for the Study of Society and State concluded that: “The dispute between the Sisi regime and Saudi Arabia threatens to bring down the moderate Sunni axis, which is helping in the confrontation against Sunni terrorism and is contributing to the endeavour to stand up to Iran.”
The centre, which is linked to decision making circles in Tel Aviv, points out that “the collapse of this axis will deal a heavy blow to the vision of regional peace to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subscribes together with the minister of security, Avigdor Lieberman. This vision is based on the achievement of a political settlement for the conflict that surpasses the Palestinians and guarantees for Israel the maintenance of its map of interests in the West Bank.”
Israel supports Sisi with economic projects
Israel has realised the danger of the repercussions of the collapse in the economic and living conditions in Egypt, especially in the aftermath of the decline in the value of the Egyptian currency. This has resulted in Egyptian businessmen finding themselves compelled to deal with the black market since the Egyptian Central Bank imposed restrictions on the purchase of dollars.
Israeli concerns are augmented by the anticipation that no tangible change will occur in the economic situation during the year 2017, especially after Egypt’s desire to obtain a $12 billion loan from the IMF was met with a series of conditions that are only likely to add fuel to the fire raging inside Egypt. Israel believes that the economic challenge is the biggest challenge faced by its ally Sisi. Israel is likely to incur considerable damage if Egypt’s economy collapses. Destabilising Egypt’s security will inevitably threaten Israel’s security.
Israel rushed to provide help to the Egyptian regime in order to maintain its stability. The Israeli media have been talking in the most obvious terms about the measures undertaken to assist the Egyptian regime economically. According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel will implement several investment projects on Egypt’s request.
This comes many years after the absence of economic cooperation between the two countries. The most prominent of these projects have to do with water, in the shadow of concerns that Nile water levels may decline. Israel is also preparing to venture into the field of solar energy, energy production, agriculture, irrigation and gas in Egypt in addition to the tourism sector, which is suffering from a severe crisis.
Yedioth Ahronoth’s military analyst, Alex Fishman, disclosed that Israel is expected to implement several investment projects in Egypt. Fishman said: “Egypt submitted to Israel a list and asked for its cooperation in implementing infrastructure growth and development projects. One of the projects over which Egypt has asked Israeli assistance is a sea water desalination project as a result of the decline in the Nile water levels to such a degree that it will not be able, within one decade, to provide drinking water and irrigation water, taking into consideration the growth in population.”
An Israeli expert of Middle Eastern economics, Doron Baskin, said: “Tel Aviv sees Sisi as an ally, especially because of his stern policy against the Hamas movement and the war he has been waging against the jihadists in Sinai. However, he has been losing more and more of his credibility among the Egyptians within the country. Furthermore, Sisi and his economic team have not been able to save the economy from the predicament it has fallen into. It has already been established that the steps they have so far undertaken are futile.”
Israeli anger because of the decline of American support for Sisi
Senior advisers of the Israeli government have endeavoured to persuade the Americans to provide support for the Egyptian regime with the aim of safekeeping their ally who is “the protector of the Camp David Agreement.” Hence, it was not surprising to know that it was the Israelis who pushed the US Senate to approve a $1.5 billion aid package for Egypt.
However, it would seem that the Israeli desire did not concur with that of recent American sentiment when it came to providing Sisi with strong support. Israel expressed concern that a change might take place in the stance of the US administration vis-à-vis the Egyptian regime. For instance, the declaration by the United States that it would withdraw its forces from one of the military bases in the Sinai Peninsula caused concern within Israel, which repeatedly urged the Americans to utilise Sisi’s readiness to meet Israeli desires in fighting the terrorist movements.
For this reason, Yedioth Ahronoth recently published a report entitled “The United States abandons Sisi and this will seriously impact Israel.” The newspaper disclosed that Israeli-American communications took place recently in order to discuss the Egyptian situation in light of the decline in Egypt’s economic condition. It stressed that “discussions with the American side focused on the necessity of reviving the Egyptian economy during the upcoming year and of endeavouring to prevent the collapse of Sisi’s government.”
Right-wing Israeli writer Caroline Klegg has said: “The United States of America is paving the way for abandoning Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and therefore Israel must exert its utmost efforts so as to stand by President Sisi.” In an article entitled “The exodus from Egypt” and published in the Israeli Maariv newspaper, Klegg added: “The American leadership has declared its intention to vacate the base located in Al-Arish and to shift the core force to a base close to the Suez Canal. In addition, there have been some reports this week that the Canadian force is considering evacuating its troops completely from Sinai or transferring them to Suez.”
Klegg believes that the change in the American position toward Egypt is to do with the dispute over Egypt’s human rights record. Klegg went on to say: “The consideration that should govern the US administration in dealing with the Sisi regime is his role in confronting the Sinai Province Organisation, which is affiliated to [Daesh], and the Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas], and what impact this might have on Israel.”
She added: “The Americans are not interested in any of this. Instead of supporting the Egyptian president in his fight and struggle against the jihadists, the Obama administration is paving the way for abandoning Sisi. It is difficult to understand the anti-Cairo policy adopted by Washington. Such policy is void of any logic. But there is no escape and this situation should prompt Tel Aviv to do everything in support of Sisi.”
Israeli columnist Rubin Parko has said: “It would seem that the Americans, part of whose army is deployed in Qatar, in addition to the Europeans and their NATO partner Turkey, are pursuing the policy of ‘after me comes the flood.’ They have settled for dividing the already declining Middle East between the plotting Sunni Islamists and the invading Iranians who are controlling vital positions and extend bridges into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen. Both Sunni and [Shia] camps are now moving in the direction of an arms race. This will eventually lead to an inevitable decisive and destructive confrontation in parallel with the completion of the Iranian nuclear project in the absence of any sanctions or binding agreement to rein it in.”
Translated from SASAPOST, 21 October 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.