Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi deserves respect for his response to Sunday’s terrorist attack in Sinai, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed. Terror only understands the language of force, if even that.
Morsi also acted correctly in dismissing intelligence chief Murad Muwafi. Muwafi received early intelligence from Israel on the expected attack, but he fell victim to 'the concept' - the same cursed word remembered in the Hebrew dictionary since the Yom Kippur War. Muwafi believed that terrorists would not attack Egyptian soldiers during a Ramadan fast-breaking meal. Aren’t these terrorists religious Muslims? Muwafi and others have been fired. None of them will appeal to the Egyptian Supreme Court. They’ll be happy if they are allowed to return home safely.
These developments have been received in Israel with mixed feelings. Egyptian planes bombing targets in the Sinai? Missiles are again being fired in the Peninsula? For those who fought in this grand but also terrible desert, these reports are accompanied by tough memories. Thirty-nine years ago, Egyptian planes and missiles were attacking IDF soldiers defending the Bar-Lev line.
The current Egyptian military's operations in Sinai are welcome, but they also set a precedent. In the end, Egypt will operate at one level or another against terror, but there will also be a price tag for the erosion of Egypt's commitment to keeping Sinai demilitarized of large forces. On various occasions, Israel has given in on this issue, particularly when it hoped that the army of Hosni Mubarak would block the weapons smuggling routes in the tunnels from Sinai to Hamas in Gaza.
Israel must remain vigilant that the Egyptian army's latest moves, ordered by Morsi, won’t in the future become a trend whereby decisions such as these are taken unilaterally by Cairo, without consulation with and the agreement of Israel.
There are also disturbing voices in Egypt, where an order was given that Israeli commentators should not be interviewed on media outlets about the bloody incident in Sinai. The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas have claimed that Israel, of course, initiated the attack, the proof of which was that the terrorists succeeded against Egyptian soldiers but failed against the IDF. These claims are ungrounded.
It is too early to assess the results of the steps taken by Morsi. In the end, he fired an intelligence chief who was forced on him in the first place, and there is suspicion that Morsi got rid of officials who had in the past represented the military establishment under Mubarak and had conducted the modus vivendi with Israel. There is no certainty that the intelligence chief’s deputy will continue in Muwafi's path.
Perhaps Israel should do some soul-searching and ask itself whether it would have been wise to keep secret the fact that the IDF had given advance warning to Egpytian intelligence about the coming attack. Marginalizing Israel’s part would have deprived it of praise and citations, but it would have been more effective in the eyes of anyone wishing to continue cooperation with the Morsi government.