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News analysis: Shootings, attacks test Israeli-Egyptian relations

By by Adam Gonn (Xinhua)

09:00, August 22, 2011

JERUSALEM, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- The killing of Egyptian policemen and soldiers Thursday apparently by Israeli troops, who were in hot pursuit of militants responsible for attacks earlier in the day within Israel, have strained relations between the two nations.

On Saturday, an Israeli diplomat in Egypt delivered a statement from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressing his regret over the killing and proposing a joint investigation during a meeting at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

But officials in Egypt were unimpressed by the Israeli gesture.

"The Israeli statement was positive on the surface, but it was not in keeping with the magnitude of the incident and the state of Egyptian anger toward Israeli actions," Egypt's official news agency MENA quoted an Egyptian cabinet statement as saying on Sunday.

Israeli analysts told Xinhua that the cool reaction of Egyptians is an indication to how much the relations between the two countries have declined since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February.


Mubarak was considered a strong ally by Israel because of similar views on many regional issues. During his 30 years in power, Israel could count on the southern border to be relatively quiet and demand few military resources. However, after Thursday's attacks, that could all change, according to Prof. Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research for International Affairs Center.

"Clearly, it will have to be a military priority to reinforce the border," Rubin said, adding that "It means re-establishment of the southern command as a regularly functioning front."

Last year Israel started building a new fence along the porous border with Egypt. Rubin said the fence, which is only 20 percent complete, will now have to be finished and with more army forces stationed along the border.

Rubin didn't foresee any negative reaction from Egypt if Israel were to undertake these measures "since the terrorists have also attacked the Egyptian army." He did, however, express concern for future security along the border.

"There is a longer-term problem, which is in the future, especially after an elected government takes office: how good a job will the Egyptian army do in guarding the border?" Rubin wondered.

Elections are scheduled to be held in Egypt in September.


Dr. Mark Heller of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies told Xinhua that as far as he can tell, the two sides are at this point looking for a way to preserve common stability in the relationship. He added, however, that the situation could be destabilized because of the emotions on both sides of the border.

"It's clear that there was no intention on the part of Israel to seek a confrontation with Egypt and there still has to be some investigation about what exactly happened, because the facts aren' t all that clear," Heller said.

Nevertheless, he pointed out that there are a lot of people in Egypt, both in the streets and among established groups, that are hoping to be able to exploit this situation to push their political agenda.

While Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, analysts said the deal never won the approval of the Egyptian masses.

Asked about the Israeli defense minister's remarks and proposal for a joint investigation, Heller said that "responsible people in the Egyptian administration and especially in the security forces will see that as a positive sign."

However, "there are a lot of uncontrolled or uncontrollable forces in Egyptian politics who are looking to stir up passions," and the situation could be out of control even though no one wants it to be so, he warned.


"The public opinion and political leadership in post-Mubarak Egypt is much more critical for Israel's policies," according to Prof. Yoram Meital of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He believes that the crisis between the two states is very serious and averred that it is not over.

Meital argued that in post-Mubarak Egypt, any crisis with Israel is more likely to lead to a negative reaction from Egypt and a deterioration in the relations than it would have been while Mubarak was in power.

While Israel made a lot of efforts over the weekend to calm Egyptian tempers, Meital said it might not be enough just to focus on the Egyptians and Israel needed to take into consideration that its action against the Palestinian groups in Gaza would also effect its relations with Cairo.

"So without finding a way to calm down the tension between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, we will see more tension between Israel and the Egyptians," Meital said.

A quick solution with the Palestinians could be hard to achieve at the moment, in the wake of three days of strikes by the Israel Air Force on what it said were militant targets, including the killing of the leader of Popular Resistance Committee (PRC).

In retaliation, the PRC and other Palestinian groups unleashed a barrage of more than 100 Grad and Kassam rockets and mortars across southern Israel, killing one and injuring more than 100 others.

So far Israel has only used its air power, but the ruling coalition and opposition members of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, have began calling for a larger ground offensive to end the rocket fire.


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