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Egypt-Israeli ties face multiple challenges

CAIRO, Aug. 6, Xinhua: The relations between Israel and Egypt have been facing multiple challenges after the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, whose policy toward Israel drew domestic criticism. The trial of Mubarak on Wednesday also revealed one aspect regarding Egypt’s natural gas to Israel. In one of the charges, prosecutors accused the former president of agreeing with former petroleum minister Sameh Fahmi on signing a contract with the Eastern Mediterranean Gas to supply Israel with natural gas at low prices, causing a loss of 715 million Egyptian pounds (about 120 million U.S. dollars) .

Mubarak denied all the charges against him. But the gas pipeline in Egypt’s Arish has been bombed five times since February, with the latest attack on July 30.

Saboteurs used similar devices and carried out the attack at different locations of the pipeline. But authorities have so far not announced any arrests of suspects. The repairing work is still under way with a plan to enhance the security measures for the pipeline.

“The attacks will harm the bilateral economic relations based on the gas sector,” Gamal El-Gawad, director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategy Studies, told Xinhua.

No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the bombings targeting the pipeline. But their purpose is just to stop the gas exports to Israel.

According to Gawad, there are many conservative groups in Sinai who refuse to export gas to Israel. There may be a regional hand too, he added.

In April, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the prices of Egypt’s gas exports would be raised to proper levels, which would bring an increase of income of three to four billion dollars to Egypt.

Now, there has no significant progress regarding the price negotiations between the two countries. Gas export to Israel has not resumed due to the attacks on the pipeline.

Gawad said the relations between Israel and Egypt were deteriorating since Mubarak’s resignation. Egypt during the past five months have more than one time criticized Israel’s policies regarding the peace talks and settlement issues. Egypt succeeded in making Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas reach reconciliation in late April. One month later, Egyptian authorities decided to permanently open the Rafah crossing bordering the besieged Gaza Strip.

All these moves adopted by Egypt revealed a shift in its foreign strategy, which would focus more on its relations with African and Arab countries as it is struggling to regain its major role in the region.

The relations between both countries are not welcomed by public forces in Egypt, so it’s hard for any transitional government to develop or reinforce the relations, according to Gawad.

The Islamists are thought to be prominent in the political scene in the coming future in Egypt. The Freedom and Justice Party affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood aimed to compete up to half of the seats in the parliament.

“This will affect negatively the relations between Israel and Egypt,” Gawad said. He predicted that the relations can’t be definitely cut, as “no one in Egypt is too fool to lead the country to such dangerous adventure.”

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel. But relations between Egypt and Israel have not been well developed during Mubarak era. Mohamed Salam, chief editor of an international politics magazine, described the relations between Egypt and Israel “always troubled and didn’t reach in Mubarak’s era to a special strategic level.”

The relations between Egypt and Israel was always described as “cold peace”, the analyst told Xinhua. Salam said the economic relations between the two sides were never fresh and it would be more and more stagnant amid calls to cut gas exports to Israel. But he also noted there are other calls to keep the exports only after modifying the prices to the global level. After the fall of Mubarak’s regime, Egypt’s ruling military council said all international treaties between Egypt and other countries were still effective, which showed that Egypt will abide by the peace treaty between the two countries.

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