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Israel to Clinton: Tell us what Egypt is thinking

US Secretary of State Clinton is in Israel after meeting with new Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi. Israel is hoping Clinton will shed some light on how to repair frayed Israel-Egypt ties.

By Correspondent / July 16, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, Monday, July 16.

Brendan Smialowski/AP


Tel Aviv

US secretaries of state usually devote their visits to the region shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians, but as Hillary Clinton began her one-day stopover today, the focus is on two countries needing US mediation: Israel and Egypt.

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Instead of filling the diplomatic vacuum that has existed since former leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 and bolstering ties between the two neighbors, the recent election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi to the presidency has only exacerbated Israeli anxiety about an erosion in the countries' 33-year peace deal. 

Israel, which has so far been unsuccessful at engaging Egypt's new political establishment, is hoping that Mrs. Clinton will shed light on whether Mr. Morsi plans to press for revisions to the longstanding, stable Israel-Egypt treaty, which is unpopular among the Egyptian public. Clinton preceded her Israel visit with a stop in Cairo, where she met with Morsi

"Our attempts to reach the Muslim Brotherhood were not very successful," says Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. "We greatly need the US to make sure that the Egyptians aren't making mistakes and thinking about changing the peace agreement with Israel." Mr. Shaked, who has been briefed on diplomacy efforts, says that the Israeli ambassador's efforts to reach out to the new Egyptian administration received no response. 

 Israel's treaty with Egypt includes a limit on Egyptian military deployments in the Sinai peninsula, creating a largely demilitarized buffer between the countries, and Israel fears now that the new president will reopen the issue. In the last year, rising security chaos in the desert peninsula has become a bone of contention between the sides. 

During the presidential campaign, many candidates, Morsi included, argued that the provision regulating Egyptian troop presence in the Sinai needs to be revisited to allow more Egyptian military forces there to boost control and stymie an upsurge of militant attacks from Sinai into Israel (there were two in 2011).

Israel is worried that reopening the treaty could be used as a pretext for anti-Israel politicians in Egypt to erode ties between the two countries and prefers the ad-hoc, mutually agreed-to deployments of Egyptian military reinforcements in Sinai. In a message to the new Egyptian administration, Israel offered its consent to deploying infantry reinforcements, according to Zalzburg. The two countries agreed to similar reinforcements last year, but Israel is unlikely to acquiesce to anything more substantial, such as tanks.


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