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Egypt's cancellation of gas sales to Israel was inevitable

The gas pipeline had long drawn complaints of Mubarak-era corruption, popular anger at Israel, and the failure of commercial dealings to improve Egypt-Israel ties.

By Staff writer / April 23, 2012

In this July 2011 file photo, flames rise after an explosion near the town of El-Arish, Egypt, 30 miles from the border with Israel after unidentified assailants blew up the Egyptian pipeline that carries gas to Israel and Jordan. Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that the Egyptian decision to halt gas exports to Israel was the result of a 'business dispute' between Israeli and Egyptian companies.

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The unraveling of a multibillion-dollar contract to sell Egyptian natural gas to Israel has been a long time in coming. The dissolution was virtually assured at the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February last year.

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But to judge by some of the reactions today, Egypt's cancellation of a contract to supply natural gas to the private East Mediterranean Gas Co., which in turn delivered to customers in Israel, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a bolt from the blue.

Shaul Mofaz, a legislator and leader of Israel's opposition Kadima party, described Egypt's decision as a "clear violation" of the peace treaty (in this, Mr. Mofaz is mistaken – the treaty makes no mention of this or any other gas deal and only calls for "normal economic relations" between the states).

Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz captions a story on Egypt's decision that it "may also constitute economic suicide." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, sought to paint the matter as divorced from politics. "This is actually a business dispute between the Israeli company and the Egyptian company," he said today.

Mr. Netanyahu is also mistaken. The chaotic politics of post-Mubarak Egypt practically required this step be taken.

Like most Egyptian decisions lately it isn't clear how it was made – on orders of the ruling miltary junta? On the initiative of a senior official at the Energy ministry? But this is a move that has long been supported by practically every political corner of Egypt. The average Egyptian saw the deal as natural-resource theft to the benefit of the Jewish state. As an easy applause line, Egyptian politicians have been attacking the gas deal at campaign stops.

While Egyptian officials, like Netanyahu, have insisted this is simply a business matter, such statements should be taken with metric tons of salt. Politics touch all dealings between the two states, and in this deal even more than usual.

The deal involved cronies close to the deposed Hosni Mubarak. The involvement of Israel was always going to make it an object of scrutiny. And the pipeline that ships the gas to Israel has been attacked by angry locals on the Sinai peninsula at least 10 times since Mubarak fell from power.

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