Concern for Israel as new Egypt emerges

By Anshel Pfeffer, April 7, 2011
Soldiers guard Egypt’s stock exchange as it is re-opened following a two-month closure during the revolution

Soldiers guard Egypt’s stock exchange as it is re-opened following a two-month closure during the revolution

Clouds are continuing to gather over Israel's relations with Egypt following the fall of the Mubarak regime.

On Sunday, in an interview with Egyptian state television, Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Arabi said that while Egypt remains committed to the peace accords it signed with Israel, they did not mean that the two countries should have warm relations.

"The agreements we signed do not force us to do so," said Mr Al-Arabi, who blamed Israel for acting against the spirit of Camp David by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank.

While it is not expected that the interim Egyptian government will make major changes in foreign policy, the prevailing view among its senior ministers that relations between Israel and Egypt should be conditional on progress in the peace process is a clear indication of what Israel can expect once a new government is voted in.

Another cause for concern for Israel are signs of a thawing in the relations between Egypt and Iran. While former president Hosni Mubarak positioned himself as the main regional rival to Iran's leadership, Foreign Minister Al-Arabi said last week: "We will open a new page with all countries, including Iran." He did not rule out talks with Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hizbollah, despite their attempts to carry out terror attacks in Sinai last year.

Even tougher rhetoric was on display in an interview by Mohammed El-Baradei, a former diplomat and potential presidential candidate who said to Al-Watan newspaper: "In the case of a future attack by Israel in Gaza, as President of Egypt, I would open the Rafah crossing and examine ways to implement a Pan-Arab defence agreement."

Israeli officials have been wary of responding to Egyptian statements. In a number of interviews Defence Minister Ehud Barak has praised Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Hossein Tantaw, currently the de-facto head of state of Egypt, for his commitment to the agreements with Israel. However, behind the scenes, there is a major concern at talk within the Egyptian political parties of "re-evaluating" the agreements with Israel and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Losing Mubarak was tragic," said one senior Israeli diplomat this week. "Let's hope that the military can hold on to their influence for as long as possible, but what we are hearing from the opposition is very worrying."

Not everyone in Israel is pessimistic. President Shimon Peres has reiterated his optimism over the rise of democracy in Egypt and other Arab nations.

Last updated: 12:26pm, April 7 2011