Israel Watches Egyptian Turmoil Warily

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

Gives Green Light to Additional Egyptian Forces on Gaza Border

Israeli officials are warily watching the mass protests in neighboring Egypt, fearing that a collapse of the Islamist government could threaten the peace treaty between the two nations.

While Israeli leaders have been careful not to take sides in Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s struggle with protesters, many fear extremist Islamic groups could take advantage of chaos to launch attacks from either Egypt or the Gaza Strip.

It is an ironic turn of events. The election of Morsi, a member of the anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood, last year raised fears among Israeli leaders that Egypt would move to cancel the 1979 peace accord.

“Like everybody, we are watching very carefully what’s happening in Egypt,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera. “Remember that for 30 years now we have had an anchor of peace and stability in the Middle East, and that was the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. We hope that peace will be kept.”

Morsi has been cool to Israel, but he has also shown himself to be surprisingly pragmatic. He has allowed military cooperation to continue and at times served as a moderating influence.

Israeli military officials said Tuesday that Egypt has moved forces into the volatile border area near Gaza to help contain militant threats. It said the deployment was coordinated with Israel, as required by the peace treaty.

“The Egyptian military activity in Sinai is coordinated with Israeli security elements and authorized at the most senior levels in Israel, in order to contend with security threats in Sinai that pose a threat to both Israel and Egypt,” the military said in a statement.

An Egyptian security official in the border area confirmed that about 50 tanks were deployed in the area overnight. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Israeli military officials say there have been no extraordinary troop movements on the Israeli side, but they are monitoring the situation. Besides the possibility that Islamic terrorists might try to use the turmoil in Egypt to carry out attacks, there are also concerns that arms smuggling into Gaza could pick up.

Eli Shaked, a former ambassador to Egypt, said that despite Morsi’s outward hostility toward Israel, he has respected the value of maintaining bilateral ties.

“Even with the extremists in power, they have shown they understand the value, or the interests of Egypt,” he said. “Who is going to replace Morsi in case he is getting out? Is it going to be a personality who is going to unify the Egyptian people, and bring back stability? This is the huge enigma, the question mark.”