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New York Times: Israeli Diplomats Assisting Sisi

Newspaper says Israel is trying to convince countries that the choice in Egypt is between "army or anarchy."
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 8/19/2013, 3:18 PM

Netanyahu with Dempsey
Netanyahu with Dempsey
Flash 90

Israel is mounting a diplomatic effort to assist the military-backed government in Egypt to retain U.S. and international backing, according to the New York Times. The newspaper also claimed that Israel has been reassuring the Egyptian military not to worry about American threats to cut off aid.

Israel plans this week to intensify its diplomatic campaign urging Europe and the United States to support the government in Egypt, the Times wrote Monday, quoting “a senior Israeli official involved in the effort” who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he supposedly fears the wrath of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who instructed ministers and other officials not to discuss the Egyptian crisis.

Israeli ambassadors in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and other capitals will be lobbying foreign ministers, the official said, as leaders in Israel will press the case with diplomats from abroad, “that the military is the only hope to prevent further chaos in Cairo.”

“We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative?” the official explained.

“If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.

“At this point,” the official added, “it’s army or anarchy.”

Israeli leaders have made no public statements and have refused interviews since Wednesday’s bloodshed in Cairo, according to the report, but Netanyahu has “discussed the situation with Secretary of State John Kerry; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was in Israel last week; and a visiting delegation of more than two dozen Republicans from Congress, led by the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.”

Israel's defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz have been discussing the matter with their U.S. counterparts, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Dempsey, respectively. Michael B. Oren, Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the United States, has been “forcefully arguing for sustaining Washington’s $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt since the July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi,” adds the Times.

The prime motive for Israel's diplomatic offensive, according to the report, is its concern that if the U.S. stops sending Egypt aid, it will be removing the underpinning of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The knowledge that it would lose U.S. aid if it breaks the peace treaty with Israel is believed to be a prime consideration motivating Egypt not to tear up the treaty.

“This is a very big mistake to interfere in what happens in Egypt,” Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and director of its new Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam, told the Times.

“Israel, by supporting explicitly the army, exposes itself to retaliation. Israel should have done things behind the scenes, under the surface, without being associated with any side of the Egyptian problem.”

But Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, praised Netanyahu’s government for “acting very discreetly,” and Yitzhak Levanon, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt until 2011, said the lobbying had not been aggressive.

A day earlier, the Times said Israel, along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, supported the military takeover that ousted Morsi. “Western diplomats say that General Sisi and his circle appeared to be in heavy communication with Israeli colleagues, and the diplomats believed the Israelis were also undercutting the Western message by reassuring the Egyptians not to worry about American threats to cut off aid,” wrote the newspaper.

Certainly, these two reports are not contributing to the discretion Ambassador Shaked spoke of, and they could be seen as an attempt to embarrass Netanyahu, with some inside help. On the other hand, if Israel has, indeed, launched a diplomatic offensive to bolster al-Sisi's standing, it surely knows that the matter cannot be kept secret for long.