Israel's message on Egypt: Keep Cairo from falling, then worry about democracy


Monday, August 19, 2013

Official says army is only actor that can assert authority, if it is dismissed, Egypt to go "way of Syria, Tunisia, Libya."


A rally in protest against the recent violence in Egypt, in Istanbul.Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Israel’s message to Washington and key European capitals regarding Egypt is that the key issue is simply keeping the country from falling apart.

“The name of the game right now is not democracy,” one official said Sunday, relaying Israel’s position on the Egyptian turmoil. “The name of the game is that there needs to be a functioning state. After you put Egypt back on track, then talk about restarting the democratic process there.”

“If you dismiss that actor, Egypt goes the way of Syria, Tunisia and Libya,” he said. “Like it or not, no one else can run the country right now.”

The official said that Jerusalem was conveying this message to governments interested in hearing the evaluation of Israel – which, unlike the US or the European countries, neighbors Egypt and will be impacted directly by the developments there.

The official said it was one thing to sit in Washington and Brussels and do “dry” evaluations, and quite another to sit on Egypt’s border and face the prospect of a critically important neighboring country descending into anarchy.

The official’s comments came amid growing calls in the US to cut its $1.5 billion annual aid package to Egypt, and as the EU announced Sunday it would hold an urgent meeting in the coming days to reevaluate ties with Cairo following the military’s bloody clampdown last week on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Acknowledging that the situation in Egypt was “really bad,” and one that Israel “does not like,” the official said that “you can scold [Gen.

Abdel Fattah el-] Sisi all you wish, but at the end of the day, you want a functional government to rule the country.”

Otherwise, he said, the country would risk falling into an anarchy that would be exploited by local and global jihad forces.

The official said Israel’s message was that the world had to look squarely at the situation in Egypt as it is, and not think of what might have been done differently.

“This is where we are now,” he said. “We are not somewhere in the world of dreams or illusions. And we are in a bad spot. You can argue that two months ago we could have done this or that, but we have to think about how to get out of this bad spot. And if you don’t, it will only get worse.”

The official said Israel’s position was that the military should be supported to help get the country back on track.

Asked what supporting the military meant exactly, he said “not taking things away from them, not harming or threatening them.”

At the same time, he added, the expectation of a reduction in violence should be made known. He pointed out, however, that “dozens” of Egyptian soldiers and policemen have been killed over the past week.

The official denied a New York Times report on Saturday that – citing Western diplomats – claimed Israel was in “heavy communication” with Sisi and was “reassuring the Egyptians not to worry about American threats to cut off aid.”

“That is nonsense,” the official.

“Do we control Congress? We have no ability to give reassurances about American aid.”

As evidence of that, the official noted that two staunch supporters of Israel in the Senate, John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), were calling for US President Barack Obama to suspend the aid to Egypt.