The rioting at the Israeli embassy in Cairo over the weekend revealed the enormous difficulties in relations between Israel and Egypt in the post-Mubarak era. The fact that no direct contact was established during the incident with the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and that Israel was forced to rely on the U.S. in relaying messages to Egypt, are proof of the depth of the problem.
Senior defense and foreign ministry officials said that in recent years, and much more since the revolution in Egypt, the channels of communication with Israel have diminished. They say that the nearly sole line of communication that continues to remain active is that of the head of the diplomatic-security bureau at the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad, and two or three generals on the Egyptian Supreme Military Council and a few top intelligence officials in Egypt.
"Gilad is responsible for the link with the Egyptian military leadership and is doing a terrific job, but if tomorrow he leaves his post, there is nearly no one else who has an intimate relationship with Egypt and who is capable of reaching agreement with them," a very senior Defense Ministry source said. "It is a very problematic situation."
Even though Israel has a large embassy in Cairo, since the signing of the peace agreement between the two countries the vast majority of communications between Israel and Egypt passes through security and intelligence channels. During the final years of the Mubarak administration the leading Egyptian official conducting contacts with Israel was the head of Egyptian intelligence Omar Suleiman.
The few contacts that the Foreign Ministry had with the Egyptian leadership prior to the revolution became even more limited after it. During the past six months there was only one high-level meeting between Egyptian and Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, when Foreign Ministry Director General Rafi Barak visited Cairo. The remaining exchanges were conducted at the level of ambassadors of the two countries.
The prime minister's bureau also has almost no contacts with the current Egyptian leadership. The former national security adviser, Uzi Arad, used to visit Cairo for talks at least once a month, but his replacement, Ya'akov Amidror, has not visited Cairo since taking office.
Most of the exchanges between Netanyahu and the Egyptian leadership are now being conducted through the Mossad. Netanyahu talks once every few weeks with the head of Egyptian intelligence, or with the head of the Supreme Military Council, Tantawi.
On Sunday during the cabinet meeting, as tempers flared over the weekend events, Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressed that the tensions with Turkey and Egypt increase the political isolation of Israel.
In meetings between Netanyahu and senior cabinet ministers recently, Barak said that the defense establishment, the intelligence community and the foreign ministry are of one view that progress on the Palestinian track is critical in view of the deterioration in Israel's international standing.
According to sources close to Barak, he made those statements in connection with the demands of ministers Avigdor Lieberman, Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Ya'alon, who at every opportunity demand punitive measures against the Palestinians in retaliation for their decision to seek recognition at the UN.
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