Interview: Tarek Fahmy on the Egyptian crisis from Israel’s perspective

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Is Israel concerned about developments in Egypt after the 30 June uprising?

Tarek Fahmy: There is Israeli concern about a number of issues, including the presence of Salafi jihadist organizations in the Sinai and the threat they pose to Israeli national security. In my opinion, Israel finds such threats and risks now and again, and it always take precautionary action against it.

Israel has therefore frozen certain protocols of the Camp David Agreement, specifically the security protocol and the region ‘C’ protocol. It has taken a series of measures along its border with Egypt, such as conducting intensive inspection flights above the Sinai to monitor unusual activity and sending in special patrol units to detect any surprise attacks.

AMAY: What do you make of the Salafi jihadist groups attacking the Egyptian army rather than Israel?

TF: It is ironic indeed. Those groups, including Al-Qaeda cells in the Sinai, did not come close to the border, cross it, or strike it. In my opinion, this is thanks to the precautionary measures Israel has taken and the losses they know they would suffer if they did attack.

The real danger comes from Gaza. After the siege, those groups gained a foothold in the Sinai, and the Egyptian authorities unfortunately overlooked them. Now they are a threat to our national security, and the Israeli army camps are within the reach of their arms.

AMAY: How do you think Israel will deal with the developments in Egypt?

TF: Let's broaden the answer to include the Arab world as a whole. Should there be an attack on the Egyptian front, it is very likely that Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan would respond. And thus, Israel is working on replacing Egypt’s leading role in the peace process by giving Jordan a greater voice. Egypt must pay attention to this regional risk.

The theory of Israel’s absolute security no longer exists, for it is threatened from the north, where Hezbollah is stationed, and the south, as well as from Syria, Jordan, and the Gaza Strip. What Israel fears most are missiles targeting vital institutions, as Hezbollah has previously launched.

AMAY: Will Israel bet on the complete fall of the Muslim Brotherhood to consolidate its relations with the army?

TF: Israeli intelligence services believe calm will not prevail in Egypt for some time, which decision-makers fear will encourage jihadists to carry out operations against Israel. What matters to Israel and the United States is that Egypt continues to respect the peace treaty.

AMAY: What is the US administration betting on?

TF: The US believes it is in Israel's interest to secretly support the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, because although the group has not supported terrorism until now, its very founding principles are based on terrorism, and they will eventually carry out terrorist acts against Israel. Proof can be found by looking at what is happening in the squares in Cairo and in other governorates across Egypt.

The US and Israel also believe that the fall of the Brotherhood in Egypt will spare them the need to deal with a new power-player on the scene in the Middle East.

Furthermore, the Egyptian army is stabilizing the situation, although the new Egypt will be different than before. And so the US will never run the risk of losing Egypt as a peace partner in the region.

AMAY: Does Obama’s frequent insinuation that he could cut off aid to Egypt raise the Brotherhood’s hopes for a return to power?

TF: Not hopes, but rather a desperate shot. US law prohibits financial assistance to states in which the democratic system is overthrown in a coup. That is why the US is hesitant to call what happened in Egypt a military coup, and urges the army to transfer power as soon as possible to civilians and hold democratic elections.

AMAY: With the fall of the Brotherhood, will Israel lose the “godfather” and guarantor of any peace settlement with Hamas?

TF: Israel has had time to prepare for different scenarios regarding the developments in Egypt, especially as popular forces had announced the 30 June demonstrations months in advance. I believe that Israel will use the fall of the Brotherhood to curb Hamas, the biggest loser in this entire development.

AMAY: What is the relationship between Hamas and Israel?

TF: According to testimony of Israeli officials, Israel has indirectly given the green light for Islamic associations to rise in order to weaken the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). And there is plenty of evidence that the Israeli intelligence services, especially the Shin Bet, as well as the military, backed this plan. Former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman said so himself.

AMAY: Did the Greater Middle East project fail with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

TF: Yes. The US orchestrated the Israeli Greater Middle East project. Actually, everybody has a project for the Middle East except Egypt. Iran has one, and so does Turkey. It is time Egypt came up with a project to maintain its leadership. The whole world is expecting Egypt to rise again.

AMAY: Should the MB sit-ins be broken up by force?

TF: Egypt will not fall into an abyss. There is a difference between the rule of a state and that of a group. The sit-ins will inevitably end one way or another, and at any cost. And a new social contract will be devised. But when? We are running out of time.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

Tarek Fahmy is the head of Israeli Studies at the National Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

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