It’s Morsi’s choice

It should be apparent to the new Islamist gov’t in Cairo that Israel & Egypt have a mutual interest in maintaining a peaceful border

By Boaz Bismuth

The deadly attack on Monday near the Kerem Shalom Egypt-Israel border crossing, in which 16 Egyptian policemen were killed, should make it clear to Egypt that Israel isn’t the problem — it is the solution.

Boaz Bismuth

Boaz Bismuth – Photo: facebbok

It should be apparent to the new Islamist government in Cairo that Israel and Egypt have a mutual interest in maintaining a peaceful border and protecting it from Islamist terrorist organizations that don’t hesitate to kill their Muslim brethren as they sit down to break the Ramadan fast.

Deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his generals learned this lesson well. It wasn’t a love for Israel that motivated them; it was a love for Egypt. Preserving and strengthening this mutual interest is the great challenge facing the two countries. It’s not a simple matter, considering that the diplomatic winds coming from Cairo since the revolution have been exceedingly cold. It doesn’t help that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi belongs to a party that ideologically sees Israel as a foreign element in the region.

The Egyptian president needs to understand that a quiet border means minimizing hostile incidents. Minimizing incidents means more tourism, as opposed to the current situation of more pyramids than tourists. Tourists help bring back foreign investors, who in turn help rehabilitate the economy. All of this is crucial to Egypt, which has 85 million mouths to feed.

Morsi declared a three-day mourning period on Monday, following the murder of the Egyptian policemen, and vowed on camera that those responsible would “pay a heavy price” for their actions. Beyond this vow, Morsi primarily needs to choose what side he is on: the side of terrorism or the side that combats terrorism. Monday’s events should open his eyes: Egypt’s budding love affair with the Gaza Strip does not afford it immunity.

Egypt’s new interior minister, Ahmed Gamal al-Din, said only on Saturday that “the situation in Sinai has never been safer,” and that he saw Israel’s severe travel warning merely as an attempt to sabotage tourism to his country. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed on Monday that the terrorist attack was a Mossad plot aimed at hurting Egypt. With such a response, you can’t expect Morsi to condemn his minister for the bizarre interview he gave to the Egyptian daily Akhbar el-Yom on Saturday. The Muslim Brotherhood weren’t the only ones to blame the Mossad. Egyptian civilians interviewed on the street also pinned responsibility for the attack on Israel. This certainly doesn’t promise a rosy future.

As far as Israel is concerned, the grave incident we experienced on Monday contains all of the negative components: Islamist terrorism emanating not only from the Gaza Strip but from Sinai, a new Egyptian government closer to Gaza than Jerusalem, and the Egyptian army — which today is in friendly hands but who knows what will happen tomorrow — securing Sinai.

This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of this entire story: Israel expects Egypt to confront what is happening in Sinai and regain control over the area. Jerusalem is even waiting for a strategic shift in Egypt’s attitude on Sinai. No one knows though what the future will hold and what events can unfold in a region that is turning into a powder keg.

Perhaps during a different period and under different circumstances we could look to a more tranquil northern border and find some sort of comfort. But the similar situation on the Syrian frontier isn’t encouraging. At least on that front there is no peace agreement and things are much clearer.

The Muslim Brotherhood promised not to nominate a presidential candidate and reneged. It was clear that it would be difficult for them to rehabilitate their country’s economy. Their expertise is limited to rehabilitating neighborhoods, not countries. It has only been several weeks since Morsi set foot in the presidential palace and he is already faced with a tough dilemma: how to resolve a difficult security problem. Sunday’s attack obligates Morsi to reveal his cards much sooner than he had planned.

Just like in the days of the Tahrir revolution, Morsi’s savior could yet again, ironically, come in the form of the military. He can assign the army the “dirty deed” of cooperating with Israel, which is its job anyway. We can still trust the Egyptian military tomorrow, but no one can promise us we’ll be able to two days from now.

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