(photo credit: Nile TV/AP)
In 1973, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was a young battalion commander fighting
against the Egyptian Army in the Battle of the Chinese Farm. On the other side
of the farm, leading the enemy at the time, was his Egyptian counterpart,
Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi – who was then, like Barak, a
When the two spoke on Saturday night, though, Barak
was not speaking just to Egypt’s defense minister, but to its new de facto
leader after the government was replaced by the military. Tantawi today serves
as the head of Egypt’s Higher Military Council.
In the short term, Israel
does not need to be concerned with the current upheaval in Egypt.
of all, the military has pledged its commitment to the peace treaty with Israel.
In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood has said that it does not plan on running a
candidate for president in the upcoming elections – it is still unclear when
they will be held – nor is it seeking a majority in parliament.
the long term, it is impossible to know where Egypt is heading and what type of
government will emerge from the next elections.
In the Israeli defense
establishment, three Egyptian officials have been designated as the key figures
to watch in Cairo. The first is Tantawi. He is well-known by Barak and other
senior figures in the Defense Ministry, as are his not-overly-affable feelings
In recent years, Israeli officials have more than once
complained about Tantawi’s refusal to crack down on weapons smuggling along the
border. “There were cases when President Hosni Mubarak handed down an order to
increase efforts, and Tantawi chose to turn something of a blind eye,” one
A 2008 US diplomatic cable, published recently by
Wikileaks, describes Tantawi as “charming and courtly,” but at the same time as
“aged and change-resistant.”
He is described as being excessively
focused, like Mubarak, on the stability of the regime and ensuring the
continuation of the status quo without any desire to do things
The other official that Israel is watching now is the
commander of the Egyptian military, Gen. Sami Enan. His clout is believed
to be slightly lower than Tantawi’s within the Egyptian corridors of power, but
is at the same time closely aligned with the United States.
mystery regarding the Egyptian military is about discipline and whether the old
guard – officers like Tantawi and Enan – will be able to control the younger
generation of officers who have not been trained in the United States and can
still come from clans that are not necessarily aligned with the
The third official whose prestige has taken a blow is Omar
Suleiman, the intelligence-minister- turned-deputy-prime-minister who will now
have to decide whether he will run for president in the next elections or decide
to retire. Suleiman has been a fierce opponent of Islamists in recent years, and
Israel would like to see him in a position of power in the new
The immediate issues that the sides will have to discuss involve
the deployment of military forces in Egypt, to which Israel agreed after
receiving a special request from Cairo. Israel is concerned that the Sinai will
turn into a breeding ground for global Jihad elements, but at the same time will
need to ensure that the forces withdraw and that the parameters of the peace
treaty are maintained.
There is also the question of the Gaza Strip and
how the new regime will act toward Hamas.
Will it turn a blind eye to
smuggling, or will it crack down even more than before? In the long term, Israel
will need to keep an eye on Egyptian military buildup – what platforms it buys,
with which countries it conducts training exercises, and with whom it decides to