What can Israel do about Egypt?

Descent into civil war could render 1979 peace treaty null.

Israel-Egypt border fence 370 (photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Israel-Egypt border fence 370
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
From a diplomatic and military perspective, Israel is following events in Egypt with great trepidation, in the knowledge that there is little it can do. But it is not entirely impotent: Israel has been engaging in some diplomatic lobbying, particularly in Washington and a number of European capitals, with the intent of persuading those governments against rushing to step up their condemnation of the latest Egyptian military operation to remove the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters from the streets of Cairo and other cities.
Since the Egyptian military, headed by Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ousted the Islamist government of president Mohamed Morsi six weeks ago, Israel has been secretly maneuvering via friendly nations, deploying heavy diplomatic leverage to stop Western governments, first and foremost the United States, from denouncing the overthrow by the Egyptian security forces, deterring them from calling it a “massacre.”
Israel’s fear is that such condemnation would weaken the new military-backed Egyptian government, strengthen the will of the Muslim Brotherhood to continue its policy of brinkmanship and give weight to its rejection of a political solution to the crisis, thereby significantly reducing the chances of reaching any resolution.
Israel’s main concern is that the military regime, which for now enjoys the support of most of the Egyptian people, may fall. Of secondary concern is that the events in Egypt will also have an impact on existing problems in Sinai.
The Egyptian army has in recent weeks been engaged in an intense campaign against the global jihad movement’s terror networks in the peninsula. No one knows how many armed militants are there – it could be anything from several hundred to three thousand. Most of them are locals, with their numbers swelled by Islamist volunteers from Yemen, Somalia and Iraq, as well as by Palestinians from Gaza who “defected” from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
To facilitate an effective operation, Israel consented to a mass Egyptian deployment of troops, tanks and helicopters in Sinai, in contravention of bilateral peace agreements.
From an operational perspective, the uncertainty and chaos in Sinai apparently provide Israel with the opportunity for military action, such as, for example, a drone strike on terrorist cells, which, according to foreign sources, is exactly what it did a week ago.
Yet any attempt to exploit this situation could well backfire. The last thing Sisi needs is accusations from his rivals that he is conspiring with Israel, and giving it free rein to act against terrorism in Sinai. Israel must tread carefully when it comes to the events unfolding next door.