Colombian soldiers prepare to deploy as part of the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping force in the Sinai peninsula. (EITAN ABRAMOVICH / AFP)
HERZLIYA, ISRAEL — At an Oct. 9 evening gathering here of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), uniformed officers and civilian officials from Israel, Egypt and the 13-nation US-led Sinai-based peacekeeping force were clinging to White House denials of a reported suspension of aid to Cairo.
After near-siege conditions during the Muslim Brotherhood’s yearlong rule, MFO officers said their operational environment was starting to stabilize thanks to the new military government’s unprecedented counterterrorism campaign against Islamic militants and jihadist cells in the desert peninsula.
Suspension of US aid, MFO sources here warned, could alienate Cairo’s military-led government, harm cooperation with the MFO and potentially threaten more than three decades of Egyptian-Israeli peace.
“In the 31 years of dedicated service to our mission in Sinai, the MFO community has never faced the operational challenges of the past year,” said Michael Sternberg, senior MFO representative in Israel.
Back in Washington, retired Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, a longtime security adviser to Israel’s Ministry of Defense, spent a good part of a late afternoon policy address praising the stabilizing effects of the Egyptian military’s summertime ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
“The collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood is a positive phenomenon. It [has weakened Hamas and] has strengthened the Sunni axis of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Gilad told an Oct. 9 gathering at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Relations between the United States and these countries are very powerful and strategic, and this Sunni alliance is a great contribution to stability in the Middle East and to US interests,” he said.
Fresh from two days of accompanying Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in high-level talks aimed, in part, at dissuading punitive action against Cairo, Gilad asserted: “Peace remains powerful and solid because of the United States.”
He said expectations of establishing Western-style democracy in Egypt or anywhere else in the Middle East are “an illusion,” and that Mideast democracy is “four or five decades” away.
“In Egypt, the leadership, for their own Egyptian interests, is doing its best,” Gilad said. “We must not advise them what democracy means.
“As an Israeli, I am for stability rather than for so-called democracy that brings in terrible forces like the Muslim Brotherhood. I realize this is not politically correct to say in the United States ... but I think we need, together, to prefer stability,” he said.
When asked if the reported suspension of US aid would undermine Egypt’s commitment to the Camp David accords, Gilad flagged official US denials, still in effect at the time.
He acknowledged “some differences” between Israel and the US administration on the Egyptian issue, yet appeared optimistic about the outcome of the three-month review.
“I don’t know what is the final decision of the president, and I try not to criticize publicly; it’s impolite. ... I’m sure any decision to be made by the president will take into consideration all aspects of peace,” Gilad said.
But moments later — upon learning of the State Department’s announced decision to withhold “certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance” pending progress toward “an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government” — Gilad assumed a more ominous tone.
“Without peace with Egypt, there can be no peace” he warned.
He referred specifically to Israel’s existing treaty with Jordan, US-driven negotiations with the Palestine Authority and prospects for improved ties with other regional states.
“Again, this White House is trying to have it both ways,” said Morris Amitay, a longtime pro-Israel activist and former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“It’s doing just enough to alienate the Egyptian military, who we will need to preserve the peace, and to alienate those people in Congress demanding tougher action because of the coup,” Amitay said.
“Either way,” he added, “it’s a lose-lose proposition with grave implications for stability and our already eroding credibility in the region.”