Israel stays clear of Egyptian crisis, fearing Russian military’s return to a second border after Syria
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republics – not Israel – are lobbying the West for support of the Egyptian military. Their campaign is orchestrated by Saudi Director of Intelligence Prince Bandar Bin Sultan – not an anonymous senior Israeli official as claimed by the New York Times, debkafile’s Middle East sources report. The prince is wielding the Russian threat (Remember the Red Peril?) as his most potent weapon for pulling Washington and Brussels behind Egypt’s military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and away from recriminations for his deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
The veteran Saudi diplomat’s message is blunt: Failing a radical Western about-turn in favor of the Egyptian military, Cairo will turn to Moscow. In no time, Russian arms and military experts will again be swarming over Egypt, 41 years after they were thrown out by the late president Anwar Sadat in 1972.
Implied in Bandar’s message is the availability of Saudi financing for Egyptian arms purchases from Moscow. Therefore, if President Barack Obama yields to pressure and cuts off military aid to post-coup Cairo, America’s strategic partnership with this important Arab nation may go by the board.
It is not clear to what extent Russian President Vladimir Putin is an active party in the Saudi drive on behalf of the Egyptian military ruler. On July 31, during his four-hour meeting with Prince Bandar, he listened to a Saudi proposition for the two countries to set up an economic-military-diplomatic partnership as payment for Russian backing for Cairo.
Last Friday, Aug. 16, Putin convened his elite military and intelligence chiefs for an extraordinary meeting in the Kremlin to discuss the Saudi proposition. No decisions were reported – only a suggestive quote from Putin saying that the session was called to “discuss the situation in Egypt and take the necessary steps to the put Russian military facilities at the Egyptian military disposal.” He added that “Russia will arrange for joint military exercises with the Egyptian army.”
Both notions were left dangling without elaboration, a lure without a commitment.
The New York Times of Sunday and Monday (Aug. 18-19) pushed an account of Israel’s diplomats suggesting they were fanning out across Western capitals to urge them to support Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. El-Sisi despite his suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the argument: “At this point, it’s army or anarchy.”
This entire conception doesn’t hold water. From Israel’s perspective, the Bandar initiative if it takes off would lead to the undesirable consequence of a Russian military presence in Egypt as well as Syria. This would exacerbate an already fragile – if not perilous situation – closing in on Israel from the south as well as from the north.
The Israeli and Egyptian armies strictly limit their cooperation to counterterrorist action in Sinai against al Qaeda, Salafist and other terrorists threatening both countries and the Suez Canal international waterway. Even then, the IDF does not go beyond responding to Egyptian requests in cases of mutual security concern. Israel has absolutely no involvement in Gen. El-Sisi’s war on the Muslim Brotherhood.
On the diplomatic front, Israel’s assets barely hold their own against the hostile Palestinian propaganda permeating Western capitals – least of all come up with the strength and skills for orchestrating a campaign on behalf of Egypt, as the NYT seems to believe.
Indeed, Israel has been extremely wary of any association with the Egyptian defense minister’s domestic affairs out of the cold calculation. If it suited his political and domestic agenda, the general might easily turn around and accuse Israel of unwarranted meddling as his fall guy.
On Saturday, Aug. 17, El-Sisi remarked “This is no time to attack the US and Israel, because our first priority is to disband the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Jerusalem found this remark alarming rather than comforting, noting that he made no promises about the future.