Israeli political and military elite did not hide their satisfaction with the military coup that took place in Egypt, as it formed a regression in the face of the Arab Spring, and dealt a severe blow to political Islam. The coup leaders also tightened the Gaza Strip (GS) siege and destroyed the tunnels. They also launched a huge propaganda campaign against Palestinian resistance forces. The coup resurrected the “axis of moderation” that supports the peace process and maintains strategic relations with the United States (US). The coup also curbed the crystallization of conditions that would help abolish Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1978. All these developments mitigated changes that might bear aggressive nature in Israel’s strategic environment.
It is difficult to specify a dominant near future scenario in the Egyptian policy vis-à-vis Israel. Yet, it is likely that the success of the coup would enhance relations between the two sides, while its collapse and the return of the legitimate president might lead to the deterioration of the influence of the elites and the institutions of the deep state, which have relied on the continuity of strong relations with the West and Israel.
The collapse of the coup might also pave the way for an active and effective Egyptian role in supporting the Palestinian issue, although the pursuit of immediate measures towards the cancellation of Camp David is not likely in such a scenario.
In any case, the Arabic and Islamic national spirit of the Egyptian people, and their genuine support for Palestine, make it impossible for any ruling regime to market its relationship with Israel or enhance this relationship remarkably.
The military coup’s overthrow of President Muhammad Morsi caused drastic changes in Egypt’s regional relations, not only because of the coup leaders’ considerations, but also because of the disparity in the assessment of the neighboring states of the repercussions of the coup on their interests. Doubtless, a change marked the Egyptian-Israeli relations following the coup, and although there are many possible tracks for their future relations, the partnership between them will be enhanced if the coup is consolidated and was able to enhance its legitimacy on the internal, regional and international levels.
It was not surprising that the Israelis, especially their ruling elite and intellectuals, have celebrated the coup, for it was considered an enhancement of the Israeli strategic environment due to the following reasons:
First, the coup guaranteed Egypt’s continued respect for Camp David, which is one of the pillars of the Israeli “national security,” having excluded Egypt from the circle of hostility with Israel. Actually, many observers within the Israeli political and strategic circles have assumed that the outbreak of the January 25 revolution, electing Morsi for president, and the rise of political Islam, would contribute to the crystallization of conditions that would ultimately lead to the annulment of Camp David.
Second, the coup leaders have allowed the restoration of some semblance of the strategic partnership that existed under Mubarak’s regime. The most important of its manifestations was tightening the GS siege and the attempts to delegitimize the Palestinian resistance through orchestrated propaganda. In contrast, Morsi has mitigated the siege, enhanced the conditions of resistance against Israel through his positive stances during the Israeli military offensive against GS in November 2012. Then where Egyptian diplomacy played an important role in stopping the offensive, and in making Israel accept to lift the siege.
Third, the coup helped ease the pressure and reduce the cost that weighed down on the Israeli economy, by sending messages of assurance that ultimately allowed the Israeli Army to lessen the strict measures it pursued following the January 25 revolution and Morsi’s election. These measures provided for the preparation of military brigades and divisions to be deployed on or close to the borders with Egypt, in addition to establishing new military airports and facilities that would have cost the treasury billions of dollars.
Fourth, the coup breathed life into the Arab “axis of moderation,” which was already losing momentum. This would secure an Arab environment that embraces the track of peace settlement, establishes political and normal relations with Israel, and adopt a friendly stance towards the US, Israel’s main ally and partner.
Fifth, the coup in Egypt was a harsh blow for the uprisings in the Arab world, as well as for political Islam which poses a threat to Israel’s interests. In fact, Israel’s decision-making circles were discontent with the rise of hostile regimes in the region, that seek to establish a state of awakening that would tip the balance in favor of the Arab side.
Israel realized the role of the coup in enhancing its strategic interests so it resorted to diplomatic and media action in Europe and the US, demanding that there should be no disruption of US aid provided to the Egyptian Army. In addition, Israel proposed plans similar to the Marshall Plan pursued by the West to aid Germany after World War II.
The Considerations of Coup Leaders Vis-à-Vis Relations with Israel:
The military institution is one of the well-established national institutions that enjoy great respect in Egyptian conscience, and the creed of the Egyptian Army still considers Israel an enemy, or at least a probable enemy.
However, the military institution in Egypt is governed by the following considerations:
First, forty years have passed since the Egyptian army waged its last war (October 1973). Thus, its preparedness for combat has waned, especially with its growing economic role that makes up as much as a third of Egypt’s economy. This is in addition to the new culture fostered during the Mubarak regime where retired senior military officers would assume important administrative ranks. Consequently, the army has been more inclined towards political calm to sticking to the track of the peace settlement. In addition, it has been afraid that the power might fall in the hands of partisan forces or movements that, according to its leadership, would get the country embroiled in wars or military adventures that would deplete the army, as well as Egypt and its resources, or threaten its national security.
Second, the Egyptian Army depends primarily on American and Western armament and technology. Besides, the US military aid for Egypt is considered essential for the maintenance of weapons and the development of the army’s capabilities. This is in fact a major setback in any confrontation with Israel due to the strategic alliance between the US and the West on one hand, and Israel on the other hand, an alliance that is expected to provide for Israeli needs while letting down Egyptian needs.
Third, the coup leaders are trying to consolidate their regional and international legitimacy by announcing a war on terror, and fighting or marginalizing political Islam. While these titles appeal to the West, the US and Israel, they also cater to the interests of the coup leaders by getting rid of their political foes. Thus, the destruction of the GS tunnels by the Egyptian Army, tightening the siege, and launching wide military operations against the Jihadist movements in Sinai gave positive signs to the Israeli and American sides, suggesting that their interests, as well as those of the West, is in backing the coup and legitimizing it.
The Scenarios for the Future of the Relation between Egypt and Israel:
The future of the relations between Egypt and Israel is subject to two major factors; the coup’s ability to survive, and future relations with the US. There are four scenarios for this future, but it is hard to define a predominant one, since the coup’s survival does not depend on considerations related to Israel, but rather on the internal situation in Egypt.
First: The Failure of the Coup
It is clear that the failure of the coup and the return of the legitimacy would re-establish Egyptian-Israeli relations on new bases. For any authority representing the genuine popular will, might adopt a new Egyptian national security approach, especially if the influence of the elites, movements and forces of the deep state that have bet on the relation with the West and Israel, waned.
The forces calling for restoring the legitimacy in Egypt have realized Israel’s contentment with the coup and its lack of interest in establishing a genuine democratic regime there. Thus, protecting legitimacy and adopting programs compatible with the popular will, might lead to the deterioration of relations with Israel. However, it is not likely that any new government, and after the failure of the coup, would immediately annul Camp David, as it would not be ready to bear the consequences of such a step. Yet, the new regime would be more determined to demand the modification of the agreement, especially those provisions related to the security appendix. It is expected that the returning legitimate rule would annul many of the manifestations of the strategic partnership, military cooperation and exchange of intelligence with Israel. Most probably, the returning legitimacy would reformulate its regional relations on basis incompatible with Israeli interests, including opening new positive page with the Palestinian resistance. It is clear that Israel will reconsider its security theory and military strategy.
Second: The Survival of the Coup and the Decline in the Ability of Army and Security Forces to Stay in Control
The economic and security problems, together with the growing political opposition, increase popular rejection of the coup in a way that limits the ability of its leaders to maintain control. This scenario is a concern especially for Israel as it provides a suitable environment for the activities of Islamic and national resistance movements targeting Israel from Sinai. In addition, the decision-makers in Israel are aware that such a scenario might allow the flow of weapons to the resistance movements in the GS through the tunnels or through other means. The consequences of this scenario for Israel are not only found in damaged security, but also in the absence of a clear authority in Cairo that Israel can address or exercise pressure on.
Third: Consolidating the Coup Rule
If the coup leaders could consolidate their rule and secure an international and internal acknowledgment of their legitimacy, their relation with Israel would grow in a way that limits the military and security burdens Israel might have to bear. At the same time, Israel would be provided with a better regional environment that would help it impose its postions on the peace settlement, and pave the way for normalization with the Arab world.
Fourth: Achieving an Agreement between the Coup and the Legitimacy
This scenario is based on the assumption that the two sides are convinced that none of them is able to impose its agenda without coming into an agreement that would spare Egypt chaos and collapse, and save the dignity of both sides. This might lead the country to a transitional period during which the normalization with Israel would slow down, with deteriorated propaganda and less military and political procedures against the Palestinian resistance, the tunnels, and the GS. At the same time, the likeliness of harsh measures against Israel would deteriorate until the new regime stabilizes.
Assessment of the Scenarios:
It is difficult to pinpoint a scenario which outbalances the others since the crystallization of any does not depend on the behavior of the coup leaders or Israel, but on the nature of the internal situation in Egypt.
Whether the coup succeeds or fails, the national, Arab and Islamic spirit of the Egyptian people and their genuine support for the Palestinian issue make it difficult for any political regime to market its relation with Israel or to take it to higher levels. In addition, the orchestrated campaigns against the Palestinian resistance would dissipate at the very first Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.
Egypt has an essential role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, it is not possible to reduce Egypt and its role to what is perceived during this transitional, shaky period the country is undergoing. Doubtless, Egypt would eventually restore its role of supporting Palestine and the Palestinian issue.
1. Stopping the campaigns of misinformation and provocation against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance forces launched by some sides in the Egyptian media.
2. Demanding that the national and leftist parties supporting the coup to show strong and clear stances against Israel, support for the resistance and lift the siege on Gaza.
3. Stressing Palestinian non-interference in the Egyptian internal affairs.
4. Making sure that Israel would not profit from the internal situation and conflicts in the Arab countries in a way that has negative implications on the Palestinian issue.
5. Making sure that Israel does not exploit the state of instability and conflict in the Arab countries to achieve additional political gains and to impose its hegemony over the region, while proceeding with its Judaization of Jerusalem and the rest of Occupied Palestine, and trying to impose its conditions on the settlement plan.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Saleh al-Naami for authoring the original draft on which this strategic assessment was based.