Israeli Foreign Minister: I Worry More About Egypt Than Iran

Article Summary
Israel is worried that the Egyptian revolution may turn against it, writes Ben Caspit. Israel's foreign minister has warned Prime Minister Netanyahu about this possibility, recommending that special divisions be designated to protect the border between the two countries. The worsening situation in Egypt may pressure the leadership to unite the nation around an external enemy: Israel.

Israel is worried that the Egyptian revolution may turn against Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent a warning document to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recommending that three or four special divisions be designated to protect the southern border with Egypt. In his view, the situation in Egypt is worsening and may create pressure on the leadership to unite the nation around an external enemy — Israel.

In closed meetings, the foreign minister said, “The Egyptian issue is much more troubling than the Iranian one,” because Egypt is the largest Arab country with which Israel shares a border hundreds of kilometers long and a 30-year-old peace agreement. During those closed discussions and talks, Lieberman says that in light of developments in Egypt, Israel must adopt the courageous political decision to rebuild the IDF's Southern Command on the Egyptian border by re-establishing the Southern Corps, which was dismantled after the peace agreement. This command should dispatch three or four special divisions to the south, and the requisite budgetary allocations should be set aside to prepare Israeli responses to all possible future scenarios.

According to Lieberman, who closely tracks the Egyptian issue, the seven battalions that Egypt deployed in Sinai in order to re-establish its control over half of the peninsula and fight the El Qaeda-affiliated terrorist cells that have based themselves there are not doing their duty. True, the Egyptian forces were deployed in Sinai with Israeli authorization (two of the additional battalions received Israeli approval after they entered Sinai); however, Lieberman believes that they do not carry out real anti-terror operations. He feels that it is quite possible that after the new Egyptian president is elected, Egypt may seriously violate the peace agreement and deploy large forces in Sinai without permission.

The Foreign Minister’s Prediction

Lieberman is well aware of Egypt’s difficult economic situation and its dependence on the West, yet he maintains that these circumstances do not guarantee that the peace agreement will remain stable. “The despair in Egypt," says the foreign minister, "only grows. A year has already passed since the beginning of the revolution and the situation in Egypt has only gotten worse. This can create strong pressure on the leadership to unite the nation around an external crisis or enemy, and Israel is the natural candidate for this [scapegoat] role.”

In closed military talks, Lieberman has long expressed his warnings about Egypt. Now, however, he has gone up to the next level and written a detailed warning  document for the prime minister. It should be noted that Lieberman predicted Mubarak’s downfall far in advance and even expressed this prediction to Western and American sources: for example, to President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.

Lieberman told Mitchell in their first meeting almost four years ago that “Mubarak will fall soon,” but the American envoy raised his eyebrows in disbelief and ignored the warning. The foreign minister thinks that there is no choice but to gear up for a possible deterioration in relations that will escalate after the presidential election in mid-May, and necessitate an Israeli response in the event that Egypt deploys armored divisions in Sinai. “We have to prepare for all possible scenarios,” says the foreign minister.

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