Israel's propaganda machine is ramping up to paint Egypt's new president as a terrorist, with the aim of limiting the strategic damage of the collapse of the Mubarak regime, writes Saleh Al-Naami from Gaza
While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been working from home for two weeks after he broke his leg, his aides and leaders of security and intelligence agencies have focussed on how to curtail the strategic damage caused by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi winning the presidential race in Egypt.
Amnon Abramovich, a commentator on Israeli television, said that Israel's ruling elite reports that Netanyahu now agrees with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that Egypt after Mursi's victory poses more of a threat to Israel than Iran's nuclear programme, and he is acting accordingly by intensifying talks with the US administration and closely examining possible mechanisms needed to confront the new challenge. General Yehuda Halevy suggested that decision-makers in Tel Aviv should brace themselves for military confrontation with Egypt after Mursi's victory. It is apparent from the domestic debate in Israel that the country is worried now more than at any other time that after Mursi's victory it will lose national strategic assets that it enjoyed through its ties with the former Egyptian regime.
General Ron Tira, a former official in military intelligence, said that as Mursi settles into the presidency in Egypt, Tel Aviv would lose the strategic partnership that was in place between Israel and Mubarak's regime. Tira expects that the principles that govern Egypt's national security policies under the new regime will be based on entirely opposite coordinates than during Mubarak's era. Although President Mursi has reiterated that Egypt under his leadership is committed to all international treaties, former Israeli minister of justice Yossi Beilin warns that transformations on Egypt's domestic scene will in the end result in the Camp David Treaty becoming nothing more than a ceasefire agreement.
Professor Yehuda Ling, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University, argues that Mursi's victory requires Israel to immediately revise its security doctrine to respond to the new challenges. Netanyahu is most concerned that confronting Mursi requires heavy spending on security issues that would negatively affect Israel's economy. It is certain that Israel will pay a heavy economic price to build its military forces in light of Mursi's victory and the strategic impact it implies.
In fact, less than 24 hours after Mursi was declared the winner and even before he was sworn into office, the joint chiefs of staff of the Israeli army asked the Israeli Finance Ministry to urgently transfer $4.5 billion to the security budget to fund rebuilding the Southern Command. The Southern Command is in charge of confronting challenges resulting from expected changes in Egypt's attitude towards Israel in the coming phase, although in the past the Southern Command received the least attention from leaders in the Israeli army.
If Israel's government adopts Lieberman's vision of rebuilding Israel's military forces in the wake of Mursi's victory, it is expected to at least cost more than $10 billion. To demonstrate how peace with Egypt had boosted Israel's economy, one need only consider the fact that security spending before Camp David accounted for 47 per cent of the state budget, while it is no more than 15.1 per cent now.
But the question remains on the Israeli scene: What should Israel do to curtail the damage caused by Mursi's victory? Many experts and officials have attempted to answer this question. Former Israeli defence minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is viewed as the "architect" of Egyptian-Israeli relations and was the closest Israeli to Mubarak, proposes that one of the key safeguards of Israel's interests in the coming phase is guaranteeing that the powers in the hands of the Egyptian army should not be tampered with.
In an interview with Israel's TheMarker online, Ben-Eliezer was clear in stating that Israel's national interests "require the Egyptian military to continue their control over most of the powers they have, especially those pertaining to formulating Egypt's national security policies".
Some Israeli politicians suggested that the economic hardships that Mursi inherited from Mubarak should be manipulated, as well as using US aid to Egypt to pressure Egypt's new leaders to deter them from any step that could alter the nature of relations between Egypt and Israel that were established during Mubarak's era.
Beilin urged the Obama administration and US Congress to warn Mursi that US aid to Cairo will be cut off not only if Mursi suspends the peace treaty with Israel, but also if he does not agree to continue the strategic partnership and security and intelligence cooperation between Egypt and Israel.
Many experts used Mursi's victory to scold Israel's government for not strengthening ties with what remains of the axis of moderate Arabs, especially Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA), to give Israel a slim margin of manoeuvrability in the region and decrease the possibility that the Egyptian condition would be transmitted to Jordan and areas under PA control. These experts recommend that negotiations with the PA should restart.
A reassuring factor for Tel Aviv is the hostile posture of some Gulf states towards the Muslim Brotherhood, who are keen on making Muslim Brotherhood rule -- including Mursi's rise to power -- a failure. Tel Aviv is counting on the fact that Gulf states will not be eager to help Mursi in rescuing the Egyptian economy.
To circumvent the damage of Mursi's victory, there have also been many calls for restoring ties with Turkey. Tira reasoned that if Islamist rule stays in Egypt and relations with Turkey evolve from antagonism to hostility, Israel might one day find itself facing a joint confrontation with the Egyptian and Turkish armies.
Israel has already launched campaigns to undermine the legitimacy of Mursi's rule through an organised publicity effort supervised by Israel's hasbara (propaganda) machine working out of Israel's Foreign Ministry in cooperation with intelligence agencies. Israeli intelligence leaked security reports that Hamas will become the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood under Mursi. To give weight to the smear campaign against the Brotherhood, some Israeli elite quote Arab writers and experts who oppose the Brotherhood and its ideology in order to convince the West that the Muslim Brotherhood is the group that legitimised the use of terrorism to achieve political goals.
For example, president of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs Dore Gold relied on the anti-Muslim Brotherhood writings of former Kuwaiti minister of education Ahmed Al-Robeie to argue that President Mursi should be stripped of legitimacy because he belongs to a "terrorist" organisation.
Israeli officials are uncertain that the above measures will topple Mursi. Minister of Defence Ehud Barak doubted that the US administration would agree to Israel's proposal that US aid to Egypt be used to put pressure on Mursi, because Arab revolutions have undermined US influence in the region. Thus, in Egyptian-US relations President Mursi has more leverage than the US because Washington needs him more than he needs them.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Orientalist Alexander Bligh doubts that Mursi's power will be undermined if Washington stopped its financial assistance to Egypt, because there is reason to believe that Washington's stopping aid would result in tensions with military leaders, not the opposite. One expert, Omer Gendler, believes that Israel's reliance on US aid in covering the rise in security costs after Mursi's victory, as well as its constant need for US political support, will make it a strategic burden not an asset to the US.
Confusion and uncertainty are prevalent after Mursi's victory, but all signs indicate that decision-makers in Tel Aviv do not intend to surrender to what they fear could happen with Mursi in power.