Israel eyes Egypt worriedly after Mursi overthrown

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Israel maintained a worried silence on Thursday following the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohammad Mursi, by the Egyptian army.

Government officials, who are normally quick to comment on regional developments, largely maintained an unusual silence after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his cabinet not to comment on the crisis, press reports said.

Transport Minister Yaakov Katz was the first to speak publicly but said very little. “We are not relating at the moment to what is going on over there. It is an internal Egyptian issue,” he told army radio.

“We must look after our own borders and our own interests and that is what we are doing.”

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel was watching carefully to see how the situation would develop.

“The government is closely monitoring the situation in Egypt but is not making any predictions because things are still developing,” he told AFP.

“It is important that the Egyptian people can enjoy a new level of freedom and self-determination ... but the current situation has sent shock waves throughout the Arab world and it is causing some concern in Israel,” he said.

News of the ouster of the Islamist president from the Muslim Brotherhood after exactly a year in government and the mass celebrations which followed was splashed across front pages of all the newspapers in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

“Revolution” was the headline in Israel’s top-selling Yediot Aharonot, while Al-Quds, the West Bank’s biggest daily, led on: “Egyptian army ousts Mursi, ends the reign of the Brotherhood.”

In the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, whose rulers are ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood, the news made the front page of Falestin, the enclave’s lone newspaper.

Pundits acknowledged that although there was no immediate security implications for Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, the main concern was that Islamic groups in Sinai could take advantage of the chaos to stage attacks along the Israeli border.

“There is great uncertainty over Egypt’s future and it is very difficult for Egypt, which is caught up with internal issues, to deal with security problems, notably from terror groups in Sinai,” an Israeli official told army radio, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, a wave of lawlessness has spread across the Sinai Peninsula, but under Mursi, who assumed office on June 30, 2012, the army made determined efforts to clamp down on the chaos, and had also worked to destroy the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, pundits noted.

Although political ties between Israel and Egypt remained chilly at best, their two armies have maintained a good working relationship that had even improved during Mursi’s year in office, with senior military officials telling Haaretz that security coordination “has been better than it was during Mubarak’s rule.”

“There will also be strategic implications for Israel. The most essential involves the nature of the ties between Cairo and Gaza,” wrote Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel.

The paper said that the ideological closeness between the Mursi regime and Hamas had helped “rein in” the Palestinian Islamist movement to an extent that did not exist during the Mubarak years. “It is hard to know whether these ties will persist when the rulers in Cairo change,” Harel said.

The Jerusalem Post said the most worrying aspect for Israel was the uncertainty created by the crisis.

“Israel likes stability, yearns for predictability. It abhors chaos. And that is why the ‘Arab Spring’ has been so problematic from an Israeli point of view,” it said.

“No one knows what forces will be unleashed, or where they will lead.”

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