Obama Works to Avert Israel-Egypt Break as Gaza Violence Persists

In conversation with Egypt's Morsi, American president condemns rocket fire from Strip, defends Israel's right to self-defense; Egyptian FM to Clinton: Stop Israeli aggression.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The U.S. government is stepping up efforts to prevent any damage in the Israel-Egypt peace accord that might result from Operation Pillar of Defense taking place in the Gaza Strip. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke last night with Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, and asked him not to take action that would worsen tensions with Israel.

Israel did not brief the United States in advance about its plan to assassinate the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Jabari, or regarding the date of the start of this Gaza operation. However, during talks held by National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror at the White House early this week, he made clear that Israel is prepared to carry out a military action in Gaza.

A top American official stated that the United States wanted to make certain that Egypt will not take irreversible steps regarding its relations with Israel, and its peace accord with Israel. According to the U.S. official, Washington believes that Egypt needs to play a moderating role, and act to curb escalation and restore stability.

The same official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has relayed a message to U.S., indicating Israel's preference for avoiding continued escalation, but also clarifying that Israel will proceed with this operation as long as is needed to bring an end to missile attacks against it.

The White House released a statement on Wednesday regarding the phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, indicating that the" President reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians."

"The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the statement added.

Immediately after this discussion with Netanyahu, Obama phoned his Egyptian counterpart, Mohammed Morsi, a talk held a few hours after Egypt decided to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv for consultation in Cairo. A senior U.S. official indicated that the Obama government had hoped that the Egyptians would not recall their ambassador from Israel; however, this official added, the Egyptian response was relatively measured, and not irreversible.

In the conversation with Morsi, the White House statement noted, "President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense. The two leaders agreed on the importance of working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible and agreed to stay in close touch in the days ahead."

In tandem with the Obama-Morsi discussion, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a phone call with her Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. The latter told Clinton that the United States should intervene immediately in order to halt "Israeli aggression" against the Gaza Strip.

Speaking today following a special discussion he convened in his office to discuss the situation in Gaza, Morsi said that he was doing everything in his power "to stop Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip and stop bloodshed."

"Israel needs to understand that we won't accept the aggression that negatively affects the security and stability of the region," Morsi said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, March 5, 2012.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom GPO

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