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Israeli Official to U.S.: Back Egypt Army or Risk Peace Talks

Israel is worried that if the U.S. alienates Egypt, it would negatively affect the renewed peace talks.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 8/20/2013, 3:13 AM

An Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Monday that if the United States did not back Egypt’s army, it would negatively affect the renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The unnamed official, who spoke to WSJ’s Middle East correspondent Charles Levinson, reportedly said that Washington must back Egypt's military or "good luck with your peace efforts between Israel and Palestinians."

Levinson explained that the comments were not made as a threat to the U.S. but were a reflection of the importance of Israel’s cooperation with the Egyptian military, as part of the peace agreement signed between the two countries in 1979.

“The Israeli position is that Saudi Arabia and Egypt have historically, and still today, have played a crucial role in supporting negotiations and giving the Palestinians the support they need to stay in negotiations,” he said.

“This officially basically said, ‘Look, if you alienate Egypt and if you lose Saudi [Arabia] - good luck seeing any progress in the peace talks,’” said Levinson.

He added that Israel depends on Egypt to maintain law and order in the restive Sinai and to crack down on terrorists operating in that region. “Israel does not want to see chaos and anarchy on its southern border,” stressed Levinson.

The United States has been sending mixed signals about Egypt ever since the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July.

The White House has thus far been cautious about calling the Egyptian military’s ouster of Morsi a “coup” since, under U.S. law, a country in which a military coup has taken place cannot receive military aid from the U.S.

At the same time U.S. officials have hinted that if the violence and bloodshed in Egypt continue, it may cut off its military aid to the country.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the United States "deplores" and "strongly condemns" violence in Egypt, and as a result is canceling U.S.-Egyptian military exercises scheduled for next month. 

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that Washington was doing its best to stabilize the situation in Egypt, but admitted that there was only so much the U.S. could do.

“Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited,” Hagel said. “It's up to the Egyptian people. And they are a large, great, sovereign nation.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that a review by the Obama administration of all U.S. aid to Egypt is currently underway and stressed that the U.S. has not yet made a decision on whether to freeze economic assistance to Egypt.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported on Monday that Israel is mounting a diplomatic effort to assist the military-backed government in Egypt to retain U.S. and international backing.

Israel plans this week to intensify its diplomatic campaign urging Europe and the United States to support the government in Egypt, the Times wrote, quoting “a senior Israeli official involved in the effort” who spoke on the condition of anonymity.