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Friday, February 11, 2011

Israel prepares for the new Egypt

The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy article on Israel's expectations and preparations for a new Egypt. Here are some highlights.
Three decades after Israel settled into a "cold peace" with Egypt—breaking its encirclement by hostile Arab states but failing to win much popular sympathy from Egyptians—Israeli officials are reviewing the ways the U.S.-backed transition in Cairo could affect the Jewish state.

The most likely scenario, say people familiar with the review: A new leadership, swayed by Islamist support and popular sentiment against Israel, would downgrade diplomatic and commercial ties, casting doubt on the long-term survival of the two countries' 1979 peace treaty.


Senior Israeli officials have warned that the crumbling of Mr. Mubarak's rule has already diminished U.S. and Israeli strategic clout in the Middle East, in the face of regimes in Iran and Syria that support armed Islamist groups and now seek to draw Egypt into their camp. "It will become more difficult for Israel to control events and their outcomes" over the coming year, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, chief of planning for the Israeli armed forces' general staff, told a security conference in Israel this week.

Israel has reacted to Egypt's unrest by moving to shore up gas supplies and promising steps to bolster the Palestinian economy. It has quietly signaled support for a gradual transition backed by the army and controlled by Omar Suleiman, Egypt's vice president and longtime intelligence chief. Mr. Suleiman has close ties with Mr. Barak and other Israeli leaders.

Seeking to shore up Israel's security, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has permitted the temporary deployment of 800 Egyptian troops into the Sinai, a sparsely populated peninsula demilitarized under the peace treaty. The aim is to prevent smuggling of weapons to Gaza, the neighboring Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas.

Mr. Netanyahu also ordered the army to speed construction of a 13-foot-tall, radar-monitored fence it began putting up in November to plug 124 miles of desert frontier with the Sinai, a border now easily infiltrated by nomadic Bedouin smugglers of drugs and migrant workers.

"Everything is porous," said Menachem Zafrir, a 54-year-old resident of the Nitzanei Sinai border outpost, where backyards look into Egypt.

"Until now it's just Sudanese [migrants], but it could be militants," he said, gesturing to the thin deployment of Egyptian guards on the other side of a border now marked by a chest-high cordon of sagging barbed wire. "Today the Egyptian army patrols over there. But if there is a mess, they will flee."
Read the whole thing.

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