Four reasons why Israel may miss Morsi after all
Egypt's president is no Zionist, but will Israel truly benefit from his ouster?
As Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi remains effectively powerless after the ultimatum set by Egypt's army expired on Wednesday, it was hard not to sense the levels of satisfaction in Israel. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the cabinet to keep quiet about the crisis in Cairo, there is little doubt that the ministers are delighted with the latest twist in the Egyptian saga.
But should they be?
Morsi, of course, is no Zionist. The word "Israel" has never passed his lips in public and his spokesman denies he ever sent President Shimon Peres a letter of thanks after the latter congratulated him on his election last year. However, his year of presidency has not harmed Israeli-Egyptian relations. Quite the contrary.
Here are four reasons why Israel could still end up missing Morsi:
1. Under Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood did the unthinkable when it affirmed the Camp David peace accords with Israel. Its leaders did talk of amending the treaty but they continued to uphold it, just as Hosni Mubarak's regime did before. Muslim Brotherhood members and government ministers may not have not with Israeli officials, but on the most crucial level for Israel - the security channels - cooperation was maintained and even improved, Israeli defense sources said, after a rocky period following Mubarak's fall.
Morsi's tenure was the first in which a large and popular Egyptian party that was elected in a democratic process supported, even if begrudgingly, the peace treaty with Israel, and justified it to the Egyptian people.
2. Israel feared that when in power, the Muslim Brotherhood – the ideological forebear of Hamas - would back the Palestinian Islamist movement and encourage it to launch missiles against Israel, while threatening Israel not to retaliate. Though, for a time, Hamas thought it was immuned, the Morsi administration actually did not try to stop Israel from launching Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last year, in which Hamas' military leadership and infrastructure was severely damaged. Morsi was also successful in achieving a swift ceasefire that has engendered for the past eight months - an unprecedented period of calm in southern Israel - which is now being adroitly observed and enforced by Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood has reined in Hamas in a degree that never existed during Mubarak's time.
3. In Mubarak's day, the Egyptian army failed to act decisively against smuggling operations in Sinai, and from there through underground tunnels, into Gaza. For the Egyptians, this was an opportunity to create regional balance between Israel and the Palestinians, while keeping the Bedouin tribes who control the smuggling satisfied.
Since Mubarak's fall, chaos has reigned in Sinai. But over the past year, under Morsi's rule, the army has been sent on more focused and forceful operations against Al-Qaida elements that have taken over parts of the peninsula, and more importantly for Israel, it has demolished large numbers of smuggling tunnels. The closeness between Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas has made Egypt more determined to fight extreme Islamists in Sinai and Gaza, as well as smuggling of arms.
4. Despite fears of a rapprochement between Iran and Egypt following the Muslim Brotherhood's electoral victories, the differences between Sunni Egypt and Shia Iran have widened under Morsi, and any chance of cooperation now seems very remote. Instinctively, the Brotherhood identifies with the Sunni rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime. Hezbollah's deepening involvement in Syria on Assad's side has made the government in Cairo an implacable foe of the Lebanese militia.
Morsi's Egypt is firmly in the anti-Iran camp. Prolonged political chaos in Cairo will attract the West's attention away from the civil war in Syria and help Iran and its allies to continue propping up the Assad regime.