Israelis, Palestinians Keep Close Eye On Events In Egypt

One thing Israelis and Palestinians have in common: Both have been closely watching events Egypt with an eye to "What does this mean for me?" Despite deep ambiguity in Israel toward having an Islamist government next door, Egyptian-Israeli military cooperation remained strong under Morsi's tenure and the Muslim Brotherhood proved crucial to Israel in negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas last November. On the Palestinian front, there is much speculation about how Hamas might be affected now that its big backer is out of power — or at least has been badly damaged.

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Israelis and Palestinians disagree on many things, but both have this in common: They've been closely watching events in Egypt. The change in government there could shake up security and politics across the region. At the center of the uncertainty is Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement with close ties to Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

NPR's Emily Harris has that story.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Between Israel's southern border and Cairo, there's the Sinai.

ILAN MIZRAHI: Wonderful beaches, mountains area, but most of it is just desert - a huge desert, a huge desert.

HARRIS: Ilan Mizrahi knows well what that desert can hide. He used to head Israel's National Security Council and was deputy director of the Mossad, Israel's spy agency. Over lemonade at a suburban Tel Aviv cafe, he describes the Sinai now as dangerous and unstable.

MIZRAHI: An arena of crime and terror: terror of al-Qaida, terror of other radical movements, strategical backyard of the Islamic Palestinian Jihad and of Hamas.

HARRIS: Mizrahi sees Israel's primary interest in Egypt as stability; meaning in part, an Egyptian government willing to crack down on anti-Israeli elements operating in the Sinai.

Since the fall of Morsi's government, Israel has waived restrictions in its peace treaty with Egypt, allowing Cairo to deploy tanks in the Sinai near the Gaza Strip.

Ruth Wasserman Lande, Israel's former deputy chief of mission in Cairo, says Egypt's military was a good partner with Israel through Mubarak's and Morsi's government. Still, she says, permitting more weapons in the Sinai is a carefully considered step.

RUTH WASSERMAN LANDE: Perhaps in different circumstances, in different times, it will be used against Israel, whereas right now it may help to stabilize the situation. And it's a discussion. Israel does have a say in that regard.

HARRIS: Israeli media reports say the tanks were part of a larger operation against militants in the Sinai and against the movement of weapons and Morsi supporters between Egypt and Gaza, where Hamas is in charge. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood was a Hamas ally. And one of the biggest questions for both Israel and Palestinians is the future of Hamas, now that Morsi has fallen.

MUKHAIMER ABU SEEDA: Hamas is, politically speaking, is alone with no friends, no allies.

HARRIS: Mukhaimer Abu Seeda, a political analyst who lives in Gaza, says the fall of Morsi's government has increased the isolation of Hamas. He says depending on what happens in Egypt, Hamas could become more radicalized or could continue with what he sees as moves toward moderation.

SEEDA: Hamas has been respecting the ceasefire agreement with Israel. Hamas has, even according to Israeli sources, established a unit made of 600 security men in Gaza to patrol the borders between Gaza and Israel. Seems to me, from my experience, that when Hamas is pushed toward the corner, when Hamas is put under isolation and siege, it becomes more radicalized.

HARRIS: Some Palestinians say this moment of uncertainty for Hamas presents an opportunity to fix the six-year-split with the other major Palestinian political organization, Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

A Fatah advisor who writes a column under the name Adel Abdel-Rahman, says Hamas has two options.

ADEL ABDEL-RAHMAN: (Through Translator) Either send out its Jihadi groups to disrupt the political arena by attacking Israel, which I don't think will find a lot of sympathy now on the Palestinian street, or return to the Palestinian political fold.

HARRIS: More immediately than politics, ordinary people in Gaza want whoever is in charge next in Egypt to keep the travel crossing open and commercial trade flowing. Israel, says former diplomat Wasserman Lande, is very much taking a wait-and-see approach.

LANDE: Israel is always looking at Egypt as a friend but a potential foe. And Egypt always looks at Israel as a potential foe.

(LAUGHTER)

LANDE: Of course, it's always in the back of the minds of both countries.

HARRIS: No matter who is in power. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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