Israeli officials were apparently surprised by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s Ramadan bombshell on Sunday, in which he sent his powerful defense minister and other senior generals into retirement and revoked a military order curbing his powers.

One official called it “a very significant development” and said Israel was closely monitoring the situation.

Morsy fired most of the top brass in his military, including Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister and military council head, and army chief Gen. Sami Enan.

He immediately swore in Abdel Fattah Sisi, the head of military intelligence, as minister of defense, and Sidki Sobhi, the commander of the Third Army, as chief of staff.

“I did not mean to send a negative message about anyone, but my aim was the benefit of this nation and its people,” Morsy said in a televised address.

His spokesman said the move was aimed at “pumping new blood” into an army that had hoped to control the president.

Morsy also named a reformist judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as his vice president, and issued a constitutional decree to restore many of the presidential powers curbed by the army in June, including his ability to declare war.

Time magazine suggested that Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood he heads might have staged what was tantamount to a coup against the military.

“Sunday’s shift marks Morsy’s boldest move yet to reclaim power from the country’s powerful military council,” its correspondent Abigail Hauslohner reported from Cairo.

A McClatchy dispatch from Egypt said Morsy might have timed his announcement for the final 10 days of Ramadan, during a period referred to as Leylet el Qadr (“The Night of Fate”).

The Egyptian president might be using the volatile situation in the Sinai Peninsula to make sweeping changes in the military, it said. The murder of 16 Egyptian security guards in Sinai by terrorists planning an attack on Israel last week could have been the trigger for the move. Following the incident, Morsy fired and replaced the head of intelligence and the governor of North Sinai.

With Israel’s permission, Egypt moved in tanks and helicopter gunships to assert its control over Sinai, and Morsy even visited the area to show that he meant business.

But analysts quoted by McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef in Cairo wondered whether the president’s new decisions “represented a new Egypt, where generals answer to their civilian leaders, or whether they were just another backroom deal between the military and Morsy, perhaps intended to allow the generals to leave power without facing trials for the crimes committed while in office.”

Whatever the case, Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood have now emerged as the true victors of last year’s Tahrir Square uprising. They wield power in parliament and now in the military too.

Their next move is expected to be the drafting of a new constitution. For the sake of the Egyptian people, let us hope that this paves the way for a democratic regime, and not another autocratic one.

Morsy has pledged to honor Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and to help revive the regional peace process, and we expect him to keep his word.

In a letter to President Shimon Peres thanking him for his Ramadan greetings last month, Morsy wrote: “I take this opportunity to reiterate that I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East peace process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including the Israeli people.”

Former defense minister MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) warned, however, that Israel should prepare for the possibility that the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt will collapse. “The Muslim Brotherhood will always be the Muslim Brotherhood,” Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio on Monday. “We should be ready for the worst-case scenario, which could involve a military confrontation.”

MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), a former deputy director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), strongly advised the government to “find a way to begin a dialogue with the new Egyptian president.”

“We need to talk to the Egyptian head of state in a sensitive and reasonable way,” he said.

This is surely the time, as Hasson has proposed, for Israel to attempt to normalize relations with Morsy’s Egypt after a long period of a cold peace under his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

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