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Israeli officials frown at U.S. slap on Egypt military’s wrist

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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A joint U.S. Navy-Egyptian military exercise in 2005. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

A joint U.S. Navy-Egyptian military exercise in 2005. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. officials have announced that a chunk of the $1.3 billion in annual aid delivered to the Egyptian military will be suspended–and Israel is none too pleased.

The move, in response to the military’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, comes after months of deliberations between Obama administration officials over what the U.S. reaction should be. It’s a confusing policy change, given that the most intense violence occurred in August, though last weekend violence broke out in Cairo.

“As a result of the review directed by President Obama, we have decided to maintain our relationship with the Egyptian government, while recalibrating our assistance to Egypt to best advance our interests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. The U.S. would “hold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance.”

The cut off applies to $260 million in cash already appropriated, in addition to the delaying of items such as Apache helicopters and F-16 warplanes, which the military already possesses from previous buys. Aid will continue to flow to U.S. defense contractors, whose equipment will sit in storage instead of being shipped to Egypt.

Israeli officials have already cried foul. One anonymous Israeli official told the New York Times’ Isabel Kershner that the United States was “playing with fire” with the aid cut. “You cannot disassemble the peace treaty [between Egypt and Israel] and take out this part or that part,” the official said. Haaretz reports that Israel lobbied “intensely” to stave off the aid cut.

But perhaps they shouldn’t worry, at least not at this moment: the steps to suspend military aid are more a symbolic slap on the wrist than a significant turn of events.  An Obama administration official told the New York Times that “this is not meant to be permanent; this is meant to be the opposite.” The administration strongly hinted that the aid could be restored if what they called a “inclusive, democratically elected civilian government” is established through “free and fair elections”–though with the Muslim Brotherhood decimated, it’s unlikely elections would be fair or free.

The Israeli worry about the move is centered on the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The $1.3 billion in American aid has ensured the maintenance of that treaty for decades. But the Egyptian military has no interest in breaking off the treaty. And their interests perfectly align with Israel’s. Egypt is intent on squeezing Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group close to the Brotherhood. The Egyptian military is also waging a crackdown on extremists in the Sinai who could threaten Israel. The U.S. government says that aid meant for security in the Sinai and counter-terrorism cooperation will continue to be sent to the Egyptian government.

What may worry the Israeli establishment the most, though, is the precedent this sets. The U.S. has long been reluctant to use the power of the purse to punish human rights violators, but this symbolic aid cut-off is in direct response to a brutal crackdown. As former CIA official Paul Pillar wrote in August, “the Israeli Right has to be discomfited by any thought of the United States using leverage based on a major aid relationship in that part of the world to get the recipient to change destructive policies.”

Still, aid-cuts to Israel are off the table. And with a path set for restoring the aid to Egypt, both the military and the Israeli government have little reason to worry about a major shift in U.S. posture in the region–at least for now.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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21 Responses

  1. quercus
    October 10, 2013, 1:13 pm

    Could not give a flying fig less what Israeli officials say or think about anything.

  2. Kathleen
    October 10, 2013, 2:28 pm

    The Obama administration barely whispered about the forceful Egyptian military removal of a democratically elected President Morsi. Clearly a coup but the Obama administration could not utter that fact. Then the Obama administration barely whispered about the close to a thousand Egyptian protesters that were slaughtered by the Egyptian military for protesting the coup. We are one sick nation.

    Israel did not want the Muslim Brotherhood in control of anything and so they have been struck hard.

    • Hostage
      October 10, 2013, 9:16 pm

      Kathleen all the Leahy Law ever required after a coup was a suspension of aid until a democratically elected government could take over. The provisions on coups and human rights abuses were always subject to a Presidential waiver on the basis of our [sick] national security interests.

      The only thing that was unpredictable here was Obama’s posturing over the use of the word coup. The Administration froze the big ticket items and cash back in August pending the outcome of its review. In the case of Gaza and the Sinai where half the clans lives in Gaza and the other half lives across the border in Sinai, the Egyptians are ethnically cleansing or internally displacing the inhabitants to stop the tunnel trade. Obama has obviously signed-off on those human rights abuses.

      • Citizen
        October 11, 2013, 6:59 am

        @ Hostage
        Yes. The only red line in US aid-to-Egypt policy is where there’s concern Egypt might terminate its role as subcontractor to Israel in behalf Israel’s security and on-going hegemony. Obama clearly sees Egypt is full throttle with Israel on their partnering pincer attack on Gaza and Sinai Palestinians.

      • Hostage
        October 11, 2013, 11:05 am

        Obama clearly sees Egypt is full throttle with Israel on their partnering pincer attack on Gaza and Sinai Palestinians.

        I don’t mean to say that stopping the tunnel traffic is a human rights abuse in and of itself, but Egypt has not opened the border for two way traffic in goods and they are expropriating and destroying homes to create a buffer zone without any regard for the fate of the displaced population.

    • K Renner
      K Renner
      October 11, 2013, 10:09 am

      Egyptians didn’t want the Muslim Brotherhood in control of anything. They’re bunglers who can’t do anything except legalize the rambling of allied Salafis and sectarian extremists.

      • Kathleen
        October 11, 2013, 1:41 pm

        There was an election and Morsi was elected.

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        October 11, 2013, 1:57 pm

        He was elected by a margin of 3% with an ultimate voter turnout rate of just over half of the population eligible to vote in the election.

        He didn’t make good on any of his promises– which would be forgivable apart from the fact that he openly allowed former takfiri jihadists who had murdered Egyptian nationals and foreigners to run for and take governmental positions, and he associated with extremists who talked openly about killing Shia’as and conducting a “holy war” in Syria to fight the Shia and the Alawis.

        Before the military made it’s move, there were millions of people voicing their discontent with the president and their desire for him to step down from office. His being elected by a hair doesn’t magically justify his staying in office if he’s screwed up numerous times– it’s all too easy for people who don’t live in Egypt and who don’t have to deal with a takfiri insurgency to say “Morsi shouldn’t have been ousted”.

        I think it’s insulting to the Egyptian people to be pro Muslim Brotherhood, and to imply that the masses of people in opposition, or the army are all pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. They aren’t.

      • Kathleen
        October 12, 2013, 11:05 am

        Bush 43 was selected by the Supreme Court. Millions of us marched in the street at his inauguration. Bet you did not see that on the msm outlets. The D.C. police/military were out on the streets three officers deep in full gear. Our military did not forcefully overthrow Bush and put him in private detention somewhere because millions of us were marching, lobbying, expressing dissent about the whole election/selection process. So why in Egypt? Morsi won fair and square. Israel does not want the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. did not want the Muslim Brotherhood and some powerful forces in Egypt did not want the MB. This was a violent coup. Period

      • Donald
        October 12, 2013, 1:03 pm

        “I think it’s insulting to the Egyptian people to be pro Muslim Brotherhood, and to imply that the masses of people in opposition, or the army are all pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. They aren’t.”

        The Muslim Brotherhood screwed up, so many Egyptians applauded when the army overthrew them. But the army also murdered people in the streets. I don’t see a side to cheer for in this mess–if the “Egyptian people” wish to support a military which takes part in political life, they can expect continued human rights violations, corruption and authoritarian rule. Plus it shows that killing people, armed or not, is a fine way to resolve one’s political differences. Good luck with that. If the Muslim Brotherhood can’t figure out how to keep their promises, they should expect to be so unpopular that other Egyptians cheer when some military strong man takes over.

        At least we don’t have politicians in the US wildly praising the wonderfully vibrant Egyptian democracy. (Though we do have some representatives who wish to maintain full support for the Army.)

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        October 12, 2013, 5:18 pm

        I doubt you’d want the Muslim Brotherhood either.

        To that extent, I don’t know why you’re acting as though a large portion of the Egyptian people are cowards or “undemocratic” because they didn’t wait for Morsi to screw things up even worse.

        >> Israel does not want the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. did not want the Muslim Brotherhood and some powerful forces in Egypt did not want the MB.

        It’s funny because Israel would fully benefit from having the MB in power.

        The MB are essentially anti-nationalist, for one thing– they’d want the country to rally around their conservative Islamism as the primary ideology, and everything else supposedly put on the back-burner.

        The only people in this sense who would want to go after Israel would be the wild eyed, black flag waving takfiri jihadis like the kind attacking the Egyptian Army in the Sinai. These people aren’t exactly effective soldiers and often are actively seeking to die whether or not they’re actually conducting a suicide operation or not.

        The Americans think they can dictate what’s what to the Egyptian people, remember? That’s why they’ve put a freeze on financial and military aid as a punitive measure towards the army especially.

        I agree that a lot of the people who didn’t want the MB in power are not amongst the “dirt poor and uneducated ranks”, but to say that it’s just “a few elites” is disingenuous to say the least. That’s the implication when you said “powerful forces”, right?

        I’d agree that it’s powerful forces in the sense that the anti-Morsi camp comprises a vast array of different people, and a significant percentage of the Egyptian population as well.

        >> This was a violent coup

        Actually I hear the actual ousting on the 3rd July wasn’t very violent.

      • Kathleen
        October 15, 2013, 10:09 am

        Egypt is far from being a democracy. That was a coup. A forceful overthrow of a democratically elected President.

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        October 15, 2013, 10:22 am

        Who made enough bad choices and enabled enough extremists to the point that a large percentage of the country wanted him gone.

        Who’s behind him now?

        Conservative Islamists, Salafis and Salafi Jihadis, the takfiri in the Sinai who think that attacking police and army and random civilians will magically cause people to re-instate Morsi as president.

        I highly doubt that Egypt would remain democratic under “Muslim Brotherhood” rule– the fringe nutjob allies of conservative Islamists only care about democracy when they can promise things to the nation and then focus on empowering themselves and foisting their ideas of religion and politics and society on everyone else, especially the people who don’t agree with conservative or ultra conservative Islamism.

        I’m not one to condone every move the army and the generals have made, especially the shootings during the summer. Even though the circumstances aren’t clear, these actions just turn those killed into martyrs for their movement, and then you get the worse sort of sectarian or outright takfiri idiots trying to justify the murders of Coptics and anti-conservative Islamist Muslims of all stripes.

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        October 15, 2013, 10:24 am

        Also, don’t pretend that the Israelis are in support of the opposition to the MB.

        An MB Egypt was a good thing for Israel because the nation was completely polarized and the MB leaders were too busy allowing greater freedom for the radicals in the Salafi camp and worse to run around spewing sectarian garbage and to complain about the clothing people were wearing.

        An MB-led armed force would be militarily useless, unlike the Egyptian Army.

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        October 15, 2013, 10:43 am

        Takfiri supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are also murdering people in the streets, and all over the Sinai, including members of the police forces and the army. I’m talking about people who have sworn allegiance to Al-Zawahiri and others who hate anyone who isn’t of the conservative Islamist (at the least) mindset.

        In saying this I’m not condoning the actions of the army, but conservative Islamists in Egypt and portions of “Muslim Brotherhood” supporters aren’t the victims that they make themselves out to be.

        They’re not good for Egypt and they don’t care about the Palestinians, excepting in the sense that they think they’ll be able to create some “Army of Jihad” and turn Palestine into a Salafi (or takfiri)-oriented theocracy.

        It is true that the Brotherhood isn’t a monolithic block in the socio-political sense, but they all do lean a certain way and it was their permissiveness of people who are essentially extremists and their attitude to allowing this people greater freedoms to spread their bile that contributed a lot to the current situation.

  3. piotr
    October 10, 2013, 7:57 pm

    I guess some official rules could be promulgated, like cut of 1 billion in aid for every 1 thousand of slaughtered protesters?

  4. amigo
    October 11, 2013, 5:13 am

    Simple really, If Israel is p—-d off then it must be the right thing to do.

    More of the same please.

  5. K Renner
    K Renner
    October 11, 2013, 10:08 am

    You do realize that the brotherhood is basically of the same line of thinking as the conservative Islamists in Syria– certainly not as bad as Nusra, but still pretty nasty?

    I mean, look at the takfiri groups attacking the army and police in the Sinai. Look at what some of Morsi’s supporters did after he was ousted. They went and attacked, at random, Coptic churches, all the while howling and waving Salafist/Jihadist flags.

    I find the Israelis trying to pretend that they’re good buddies with the Egyptian military to be pretty sickening, and there is no evidence to suggest that the Egyptian army or the majority of people who supported the ouster of the MB idiots are in love with or otherwise big fans of the Israelis. The army isn’t waging a counter-insurgency campaign in Sinai on behalf of the Israelis, but to prevent attacks on themselves and on regular Egyptian people.

    It’s worth noting that the Brotherhood isn’t exactly innocent itself in terms of attacking innocent people, or torturing people, or making death threats. Actions on the Egypt-Gaza border aside (although Hamas should disavow the MB and beat down the takfiri cells in Gaza with more ferocity), the Egyptian interim government and the army are working with a very precarious situation, and it’s not as simple as it is in Israeli cases, wherein they cause the problem and then murder people for reacting to the problem(s) they caused to begin with.

    • Donald
      October 12, 2013, 1:19 pm

      “although Hamas should disavow the MB”

      Um, aren’t they sorta the same, ideologically speaking? Didn’t the Palestinians have their own civil war between Hamas and the more secular types a few years ago? Of course, most of us progressives sided with Hamas then, because the secular types were supported and egged on and urged to overthrow Hamas by the US and Israel after Hamas won the election. But Hamas behaved quite brutally during its short war.

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        October 12, 2013, 5:20 pm

        I do look forward to the day in Gaza when things are prosperous enough that the Palestinians there decide that they don’t need Hamas out of necessity anymore.

  6. K Renner
    K Renner
    October 11, 2013, 10:13 am

    The Americans should cut all aid to Israel. If they have to give money to someone else in the “package” sense, it should be to the various anti-brotherhood coalitions, or maybe the “third square” people.

    The Egyptian Army is at least acting in response to unprovoked attacks and is in defence of a far greater amount of people then the Israelis could ever claim to be.

    The situation is far from that of the Palestinians, who are shot and stolen from and abused for having the audacity to continue to exist on their land and not like being abused/murdered/stolen from.

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