Egypt crisis pushes an unlikely axis: Israel-Saudi

The bodies of 25 Egyptian policemen killed by jihadists in Sinai on Monday are unloaded in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

The bodies of 25 Egyptian policemen killed by jihadists in Sinai on Monday are unloaded in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

Israel has found itself in agreement with an unlikely group of Middle Eastern countries over the ongoing turmoil in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have joined Israel in an informal alliance that is backing Egypt’s de facto military government.

The predominantly Sunni Arab states are motivated by the desire to confront the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.
For Israel, the spiralling terror threat from jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula has pushed its military co-operation with Egypt to unprecedented heights.

Despite the international consternation over the bloody repression of Muslim Brotherhood protests on the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, Israel officials have been quietly lobbying Western leaders to back the government, warning that military rule is the only alternative to even greater chaos in Egypt.

Alongside Israel’s representatives, Saudi Arabia’s diplomats have also been seeking to persuade the US and the EU not to levy sanctions on Egypt.

The Saudi monarchy may be deeply religious but it is no ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is viewed with deep suspicion in Riyadh as a group of dangerous revolutionaries.

The Saudis, along with their Gulf neighbours, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have already promised around $12 billion of aid to Egypt, far more than the US provides.

While Israel and Saudi Arabia have no formal relations, their regional alliance could prove a formidable axis in the future.

Officials in Jerusalem have remained publicly silent on the issue, acknowledging the fact that any Israeli intervention in Egyptian affairs will cause domestic problems for the current military-backed administration in Cairo, and in its relations with other Arab countries.

But in a rare public acknowledgment of the security ties between the countries, an adviser to Egypt’s caretaker president, Adli Mansour, said in a television interview that “it is natural for Israel to monitor events in a neighbouring country” and that such activity is necessary to prevent “spill-over” of the situation in Sinai and “is in the entire region’s interest”.

For more than three decades since the signing of the Camp David Accords, Israel and Egypt have been tacit allies against the radical axis in the region which today includes Iran, Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon. On the surface, relations have remained frosty but the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian mission in Tel Aviv have remained open.

As the revolution began stirring in January 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Obama administration and other Western governments to continue backing President Hosni Mubarak.

His warnings went unheeded and, despite the new Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi promising not to cancel any of Egypt’s international agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel, bilateral relations took a hit.

Now that Mr Morsi is deposed and the Brotherhood’s supporters are being hunted on the streets, Israeli officials are quietly satisfied at the emergence of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the de-facto leader of Egypt. “We know al-Sisi and we can do business with him,” said one senior Israeli security official.

Israeli-Egyptian intelligence-sharing over jihadist moves in Sinai is crucial for Cairo, especially following the massacre of 25 policemen near Rafah on Monday morning, probably by Islamist terrorists. The co-operation is also critical for Israel, which has seen Eilat come under missile fire repeatedly in the past few months.

Last updated: 1:27pm, August 22 2013