Steinitz doesn’t say ‘I told you so’ on Egypt

Finance Minster downplays his years of intense criticism of Egypt and calls for calming the situation with Israel’s southern neighbor.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
August 26, 2011 03:17
2 minute read.
FINANCE MINISTER Yuval Steinitz

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 311. (photo credit: Courtesy: Ministry of Finance spokesperson)

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was known for years as a “prophet of doom” regarding Israel’s relations with Egypt, but now that those ties have deteriorated, he declined an opportunity to gloat.

Steinitz spoke about Egypt for the first time since last Thursday’s terrorist attacks on the Israeli-Egyptian border and the demonstrations outside Israel’s embassy in Cairo intensified. He downplayed his years of intense criticism of Egypt and called for calming the situation with Israel’s southern neighbor.

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“I did criticize Egypt in the past, particularly on the issues of smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip and incitement against Israel in their education system and their media,” Steinitz said.

“I had demanded that Egypt be pressured to take action to stop these problems, because our peace with Egypt is so important. Now Egypt is in a sensitive time, and we must do everything possible to maintain our relations, which are so critical strategically.”

Steinitz has left the job of censuring Egypt this week to another fierce critic of the country over the years, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

While Steinitz never called for bombing the Aswan damn as Lieberman did, he sounded warning bells about Egypt in every possible forum for more than a decade.

“Egypt is a serious threat to Israel,” he was quoted as saying in 2001. “It is preparing for possible war against Israel.”

He estimated at the time that Egypt’s defense expenditures in real terms increased 15 to 25 percent per year since the 1990s, despite the Oslo agreements Israel signed with the Palestinians. He charged repeatedly that Egypt had not honored key clauses in its peace agreement with Israel, including building economic ties and stopping anti-Israel incitement.

In 2005, as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he suggested that Egypt was intentionally avoiding fighting arms smuggling in Sinai as a means of getting military forces back into the peninsula.

“Egypt has been allowing terrorist groups operating out of Gaza to smuggle in missiles,” he said. “It is a mistake for Israel to view Syria as its principal enemy, while neglecting the threat to the South just because Israel maintains diplomatic relations with Egypt.”


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