Defense community unfazed by Cairo shake-up

Official: Egyptian army remains dependent on US aid; security officials see no sudden deterioration on the southern border.

Netanyahu and Barak in Sinai 390 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Netanyahu and Barak in Sinai 390
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
The sudden ouster of top defense chiefs by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy caught the Israeli defense establishment by surprise, but the consensus among security officials is that the move will not lead to any sudden deterioration on the southern border.
Until now, despite the visceral anti-Israel hatred prominent in Egypt’s media, Egyptian military officials kept in close touch with their Israeli counterparts and coordination between the two militaries was good. The Israeli and Egyptian chiefs of staff even held meetings in Brussels during NATO conferences.
Some commentators expressed concern that the sweeping changes now made by the Islamist Egyptian president could see that cooperation come to an end, but the Israeli defense community does not anticipate any immediate changes on the horizon.
“It was a surprise, especially as this occurred in the middle of a military operation to flush out terrorists from the Sinai Peninsula,” an Israeli source told The Jerusalem Post. The source added, however, that he was not startled by the move. “I don’t think this will influence relations more than Morsy’s ascension [already did],” he said.
“The new guys [appointed by Morsy to replace the ousted security chiefs] come from the same place as their processors. The new appointments grew up in an Egyptian army that received US assistance. They will also receive US cash,” the source said. “The big enemy [for Egypt] is the Beduin in Sinai, not Israel. Regionally, Egypt is worried about Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. Their primary mission is to be the leader of the Arab Middle East.”
The fact that Morsy does not have to answer to an Islamist opposition like his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, did means that he will be freer to restore security in Sinai, the source argued.
“This could make him more practical and allow for more security cooperation. Morsy’s first responsibility is to the economy.”
Asked about concerns that Morsy will wish to create an Islamist-oriented military in the long-term future, the source said, “Then he would have to build it with his own money. In actuality they need American aid. Things are more complicated than they seem.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, offered a similar evaluation.
“I don’t think anything dramatic will happen in the immediate future. Recent developments offer opportunities, not just negative scenarios.
The fact that Hamas is telling Egypt it is willing to close off smuggling tunnels from Gaza to Sinai if the Rafah border crossing is opened is exactly in the Israeli interest,” he told the Post.
As soon as the Rafah border is opened, diplomatic pressure on Israel to end the security blockade on Gaza will decrease, as Gaza will enjoy an open border with Egypt, Eiland said.
“Militarily, we can at least hope that if all the goods are transported above ground, Egypt will not be able to ignore military supplies [smuggled into Gaza],” he added.
“The main thing is the leverage the US is able to place on Egypt on all issues connected to the peace treaty with Israel. If the US stops military and civilian aid, Egypt will end up with starvation,” Eiland said.
In Fiscal Year 2010, the US gave Egypt some $1.7 billion in aid, consisting of $1.3b. in military assiatance and $400 million in civilian aid.