Washington cuts Egypt aid despite intense Israeli lobbying
Suspension of military, economic support could harm Cairo's relations with Israel, a Jerusalem official said.
The United States' decision to freeze military and economic aid to Egypt in the wake of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood came despite intense Israeli lobbying to maintain it, Haaretz has learned.
The U.S. on Wednesday announced that it would withhold deliveries of military hardware and cash assistance from Egypt's military-backed government, pending progress on democracy and human rights.
Israel fears that cutting aid to Egypt could affect the peace treaty between the two countries, signed in 1979, which brought Cairo into Washington's sphere of influence. Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.
In recent months, Israel has tried to convince the White House that punishing Egypt for the latest violence between the government and protesters was secondary to preserving the peace deal.
"As long as the American aid flows to Cairo, the Egyptian regime can ward off criticism against preserving the peace treaty with Israel," Israeli officials told their U.S. counterparts.
Security establishment officials have maintained in recent weeks that cooperation with the Egyptian government should continue, despite the violence used against demonstrators. They say Jerusalem's and Cairo's common interest – fighting the Muslim Brotherhood – was much more important.
An Israeli cabinet member said Thursday morning that he believes that the decision would not affect Israel-Egypt relations.
"I hope this decision by the U.S. will not have an effect and won't be interpreted as something that should have an effect," Home Front Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio. Israel and Egypt, he said, maintain close ties and are cooperating.
Egypt on Thursday criticized the move: "The decision was wrong. Egypt will not surrender to American pressure and is continuing its path towards democracy as set by the roadmap," Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told a private Egyptian radio station.
The army ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July, installed an interim government and presented a political "roadmap" it promised would lead to fair elections.
The Brotherhood refuses to work with the military, which it says staged a coup and sabotaged Egypt's democratic gains after a revolt toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters and missiles as well as $260 million in cash aid from the military-backed government.
But it said it would continue military support for counterterrorism, counter-proliferation and security in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders U.S. ally Israel. It will also continue to provide funding in areas such as education, health and private sector development.
Three soldiers, policeman killed in Sinai
On Thursday, Egyptian officials said a suicide bomber has rammed his explosives-laden car into a checkpoint outside a coastal city in volatile Sinai Peninsula, killing three soldiers and a policeman outside the city of al-Arish.
They say the bomber slowly approached the checkpoint, waited for soldiers and policemen to start searching the car before he blew himself and his vehicle up.
Five other people were wounded.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Islamic militants have been attacking security forces in Sinai for years but the frequency of the attacks has dramatically grown since Morsi's ouster in a July coup.
The army and police are waging a campaign against the militants in northern Sinai.