As Egypt is convulsed by a quasi-civil war, Israel is urging the international community—and particularly Washington—to ease its pressures on the military-backed government in Cairo in order to avert chaos.
“The name of the game right now is not democracy,” an Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, August 18. “After you put Egypt back on track, then talk about restarting the democratic process there.”
The unnamed official said that this was the message being conveyed by Israeli diplomatic legations to foreign governments interested in hearing Israel’s take on the situation in Egypt. He denied claims by Western diplomats cited in the New York Times over the weekend that Israel was reassuring the Egyptians that the United States would not cut off its annual aid to Cairo despite hints from Washington that that might happen if it continues its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
“That is nonsense,” the official said. “Do we control Congress? We have no ability to give reassurances about American aid.”
The New York Times quoted an anonymous Israeli official on Sunday as saying that Israel is taking an active role in discussing the situation with relevant international entities. “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,” he said. “If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential—putting Egypt back on track whatever the cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on. At this point it’s army or anarchy.”
Israeli government and military officials have presented their views to American counterparts in recent days while avoiding public statements on the issue. “Israel is in a state of diplomatic emergency,” wrote Alex Fishman, columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot. “It has been waging an almost desperate diplomatic battle in Washington.”
Since the most recent turmoil began in Egypt, Israel has maintained a discreet silence about events there. However, as calls mount abroad for suspension of aid to Egypt, Jerusalem has begun to quietly speak out in support of the military-backed government.
There is fear that the emergence that the Muslim Brotherhood triumphing in the current struggle could endanger Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. The Egyptian security forces are seen as an unofficial but potent ally in the fight against the militant Islamic forces that have been active in Sinai close to the Israeli border.
Some in Israel are uneasy about publicly taking sides in the Egyptian struggle.
“Israel does not have to support the (Egyptian) regime, especially not publicly,” Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, a former chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, told the Associated Press. He acknowledged, however, that Israel’s interests were “much closer” to that of the current regime than that of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Even if we don’t share the same values we can share the same interests. We want a stable regime in Egypt.”
Egyptian governments for the past three decades have maintained a cool relationship with Israel, avoiding acknowledgement of Israel as a natural or permanent presence in the region. In a rare, neighborly comment yesterday, an adviser to Egypt’s interim president referred to reports about Israel’s stand on the current Egyptian conflict without suggesting it refrain from interfering.
“It’s natural for Israel to monitor events in a neighboring country to ensure there’s no spillover,” said Mustafa Hijazi, political adviser to Egypt’s interim government, to Russia’s Arabic-language TV channel, Russia Al-Youm. “It’s in the entire region’s interest.”