The Israeli response to the election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was a bit unusual.
The terse 46-word statement said Israel “respects the results” of the election and “looks forward to continuing cooperation…on the basis of the peace treaty.” In case there was any doubt about which treaty, the statement provided a link to a web page with the full text of the 1979 agreement in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The statement, which did not offer congratulations or mention a possible bilateral meeting between the treaty partners, did not come from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but from his media advisor.
Maybe the PM did not want to appear to his hardline base to be endorsing the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, but the reality is he won a democratic election and it is in Israel’s interest to have good relations with him if it wants to protect and preserve its peace treaty with Egypt.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was close to Mubarak, had some good advice for Netanyahu: “We have no choice but to find a way to start a dialogue with the Mulsim Brotherhood,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “We need to help Morsi understand that it is in Egypt’s interest to maintain peace with us no less than Israelis realize that it is in our interest to maintain peace with them.”
Right now neither leader is interested in meeting anytime soon, and any dialogue between the Netanyahu and Morsi governments will be at the security level, where there already is a strong relationship.
Relations at the civilian and diplomatic level have been icy for a long time and could well get colder under a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Both sides appear content to leave the dialogue to their military and intelligence establishments for the foreseeable future.
Some figures in the Muslim Brotherhood have spoken of amending the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, something Israel adamantly opposes, but there’s no indication they speak for the new government.
Hamas, which is an offshoot of Brotherhood, enthusiastically welcomed Morsi’s election, in contrast to the more subdued reaction of its secular Fatah rival.
The Egyptian military in the days before the runoff election took steps to combat the growing threats from the Sinai and to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Morsi understands the risks to abrogating the treaty with Israel include not only loss of billions in US aid and defense assistance, Western investment and tourism but also international condemnation. His government’s first test, in Israeli eyes, will be regaining control of the Sinai, which since the Tahrir Square demonstrations began early last year has seen an alarming growth of terrorist groups, violent gangs, smugglers and migrant workers trying to sneak into Israel.