As tensions between the US and Egypt simmered over this week’s American decision
to withhold aid to Cairo, Israeli officials said on Thursday that for Jerusalem,
preserving Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt is paramount.
the outlook for human rights and democracy in Egypt, the US announced on
Wednesday it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters
and missiles as well as hundreds of millions in cash aid.
Binyamin Netanyahu’s Office had no comment Thursday on the US decision, but an
Israeli official said that the most important thing from an Israeli perspective
was maintaining the peace treaty with Egypt that the US brokered and to which
president Jimmy Carter was a witness.
“The American support for Egypt was
given in that context,” he said.
Obviously, the official added, Israel
understood that the US had its laws governing aid, “but we would hope there
would be a way to restore normal relations between Egypt and America as quickly
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan voiced concern over
the effects the decision might have on bilateral ties.
“Certainly it can
be confirmed that we had been troubled by how decisions of this kind were liable
to be interpreted in Egypt, and of course the risk of consequences for relations
with Israel,” Erdan said.
Former defense minister Labor MK Binyamin Ben-
Eliezer, however, was uncharacteristically blunt in his criticism of the US,
saying that the US was “essentially and unwittingly” working against its own
“It must be understood that this region is so weak and in
order to keep it stable, a superpower of some kind is required to safeguard it,”
said Ben-Eliezer, who was considered close to deposed Egyptian president Hosni
Ben-Eliezer said that the US policy was of great concern to
Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries, and that he could envision a
situation where they would begin quiet talks with the Russians to secure their
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and one of his senior
strategists, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, were in the United States when the
decision to freeze some Egyptian aid was announced. Like other officials, Gilad
hinted at Israel’s disappointment.
“I try not to criticize our friends
publicly,” he told an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
The Egyptian Embassy in Washington was hosting a reception to
celebrate its national Army Day on Tuesday evening, serving US government
officials as their guests, when it received news of a shockingly timed,
unintentional leak from the White House.
CNN reported that after another
bloody weekend in Cairo resulted in the deaths of 57 civilians, the US president
had decided to cut all military aid to the most populous Arab nation.
report was quickly denied by the White House, but was not far off: the US
announced on Wednesday a significant suspension of aid and a complete halt to
cash assistance to Egypt’s interim government.
The US will maintain
military aid to Egypt tied by contracts with American defense firms, but will
“continue to hold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash
assistance to the government pending credible progress toward an inclusive,
democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections,” Jen
Psaki, State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Department clarified, however, that it would continue to give Egypt support for
counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai Peninsula.
At a State Department
briefing, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We would never undertake any
policy with Egypt that would put Israel’s security at risk.”
“We will continue the conversation with our Israeli friends about how to
implement this going forward.”
The decision to curtail aid does not mean
Washington is severing ties with the country, US Secretary of State John Kerry
said on Thursday.
“The interim government understands very well our
commitment to the success of this government, which we want to see achieve, and
by no means is this a withdrawal from our relationship or a severing of our
serious commitment to helping the government,” Kerry told reporters shortly
after arriving in Malaysia.
“Large-scale systems” being withheld include
F-16 fighter jets, M-181 tanks, Harpoon missiles and Apache helicopters,
according to American administration officials.
“We’re talking hundreds
of millions of dollars in military assistance,” one senior administration
official said, in addition to the complete halt of $260 million in cash
assistance to the interim government.
“Most of the economic assistance”
earmarked for civilian purposes and toward the private sector will continue,
another aide said.
“This decision just underscores that the United States
will not support actions that undermine our principles,” the official
“This is a way of expressing that.”
US Secretary of Defense
Chuck Hagel explained the change in policy in a 40- minute phone call with
Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“Both wanted to take the steps needed
to resume the assistance,” the official said, adding that the two men emphasized
the need to reinforce security in Sinai and Egypt’s border with
The official declined to comment on whether Sisi objected to the
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty criticized the
decision, saying that “Egypt will not surrender to American pressure” and
assuring that it is “continuing its path towards democracy as set by the road
An Egyptian military source, speaking on the condition of
anonymity, said the US decision came as no surprise and was expected, according
to a report in Ahram Online. It was likely that Hagel mentioned the issue in his
calls with Sisi, added the source.
The US is viewed negatively by most
Egyptians, so a cutoff in aid may serve to further unite Egyptians behind the
According to a Tweet by the popular Egyptian blogger The Big
Pharaoh, Sisi will be able to position himself as a victim of US
He questioned why similar measures were not taken during
Morsi’s rule, as he had used autocratic methods to increase his
Meanwhile, supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi called for
more protests on Friday with a planned march to Tahrir Square. Clashes
throughout Egypt have led to significant bloodletting since the July 3
The detainment of Morsi by the military has been condemned by
the US as a “politicized arrest.”
The State Department says the US has
“determined not to make a determination” whether the event was a coup. US law
would require aid be cut if such a determination were made.
Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, expressed support for the cut to Egypt’s military
“Assistance to Egypt that supports these common goals should
continue,” said Menendez. “But ongoing violence in Egypt is troubling, shows no
signs of abating, and given these worrisome developments, a pause in assistance
is appropriate until the Egyptian government demonstrates a willingness and
capability to follow the road map toward a sustainable, inclusive and nonviolent
transition to democracy.”
Reuters contributed to this report.