Egypt’s new military-backed leadership can count on Israel for support; relieved that the Muslim Brotherhood regime is gone, Israel is willing to be flexible when it comes to the limits imposed by the 1979 peace treaty.
The approval of an Egyptian request to deal with the terrorist threat in Sinai by moving more forces into the peninsula shows that Israel is not hesitating to embrace the newly minted power players in Cairo.
As the Muslim world continues to be engulfed and divided by intra-Muslim warfare – whether between Shi’ites and Sunnis, Islamic radicals and nationalist forces, or even competing parties within these subgroups – Israel has generally decided to stay out and only involve itself when it feels there is a critical security threat.
Last week, Al-Qaida affiliated terrorists killed a senior figure in the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, demonstrating the deep rift within the Sunni opposition. This, on top of the civil war raging in Syria, which involves other regional players, has kept the rage of anti-Israel forces engaged against each other rather than Israel.
On Tuesday, a convoy carrying Hezbollah security officials was hit by a roadside bomb near the Lebanon-Syria border, with three wounded in the third attack on the Shi’ite militant group since May, security sources said.
The wounded men were traveling in a convoy of two vehicles heading toward Syria. A barrage of gunfire hit the convoy after the blast, security sources said.
Moreover, despite a rocket hitting the Golan once every week, Israel has limited itself to what has been reported as secret bombing operations in Syria against advanced weaponry or chemical weapons. Other than that, Israel is not overtly involving itself in the turmoil.
The chaos in Sinai and the recent escalation of violence against Egyptian security forces by Islamists as a result of the coup against former president Mohamed Morsi has also seen Israel take a hands-off approach. Even though some of these forces are originating in Gaza, as long as attacks are not launched on Israel proper, Israel has not been retaliating.
Israel granting permission to Egypt for additional forces in Sinai begs the question: Is the peace treaty between the two being downgraded? It could be seen as a positive development that the Egyptian army is getting serious about fighting Sinai-based terror, which has connections to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
“The demilitarization clauses of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace remain important for the security of Israel,” Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Jerusalem Post. “At the same time, Israel is cognizant of the intensified efforts of the Egyptian armed forces to fight international terrorism in Sinai, and thus must make allowances at times regarding Egyptian deployment levels.”
Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, told the Post: “This is not the first time Israel has approved Egyptian troop increases; it has already done so a number of times, under [former president Hosni] Mubarak and since, to help the Egyptian military pursue what is a shared interest in promoting stability in Sinai and preventing cross border attacks....The new military-backed regime holds out far greater hope for the future of the Egyptian-Israeli relationship than under Morsi.”
Freilich added that even though Morsi had maintained the peace treaty and played a positive role in brokering the ceasefire after Operation Pillar of Defense, “the peace treaty under him was living on borrowed time – sooner or later the Muslim Brotherhood would have abrogated it.”
He also noted that the Brotherhood was a viciously anti-Israel and anti-Semitic group, and that Israel “should aid the new military leadership in any way it can.”
Furthermore, he said he believes that in order to preserve the peace treaty with Egypt, which is of great importance to Israel, the Jewish state should also “exert maximal restraint in the face of what will undoubtedly be further attacks out of Sinai.”
Thus, he said, Israel should continue to stay out of the fighting there.
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Reuters contributed to this report.