Will Is­rael-egypt re­la­tions col­lapse with gas deal?

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News -

ON an­nounc­ing that it was ter­mi­nat­ing its con­tract to sup­ply gas to Is­rael on Sun­day, Egypt’s Nat­u­ral Gas hold­ing com­pany im­me­di­ately claimed that the decision had been made on a purely com­mer­cial ba­sis.

How­ever, the move was pounced upon by the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates as yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to bur­nish their na­tional and an­tiIs­rael cre­den­tials.

Even the lead­ing sec­u­lar can­di­date, for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Amr Moussa, cur­rently seen as the most “mod­er­ate” of po­ten­tial pres­i­dents, said that cut­ting off the gas sup­plies had been a “nat­u­ral step”.

The wide­spread an­tipa­thy to­wards Is­rael among the Egyp­tian public is not the only rea­son that the nat­u­ral gas deal has been deeply un­pop­u­lar.

The fact that the deal had been signed by the pre­vi­ous Mubarak ad­min­is­tra­tion and bro­kered by ty­coons close to the de­posed pres­i­dent has given rise to a wide ar­ray of con­spir­acy the­o­ries re­gard­ing the bribes al­legedly paid to those in­volved in the deal, at the ex­pense of the Egyp­tian peo­ple. Politi­cians of all stripes have claimed that Is­rael was get­ting gas on favourable, be­low-mar­ket terms.

Mean­while, long be­fore the cut-off an­nounce­ment, Is­rael had al­ready been us­ing al­ter­na­tive en­ergy to the Egyp­tian gas that, un­til early 2011, sup­plied about 40 per cent of the electricity grid’s needs. Over the past 15 months, the gas pipe­line through Si­nai has been sab­o­taged 14 times by Be­douin tribes­men and there has been lit­tle gas com­ing through.

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, stressed that this was not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue; rather, as Mr Ne­tanyahu put it, a “busi­ness dis­pute”.

But one of­fi­cial at EMG, the Is­raeli com­pany im­port­ing the Egyp­tian gas said this week: “Of course this is a diplo­matic is­sue, the oil ship­ments were part of the orig­i­nal Camp David Ac­cords and then they were sub­sti­tuted by nat­u­ral gas in a sec­ond, sep­a­rate agree­ment.”

What­ever the real rea­sons for the ter­mi­na­tion of the gas deal, it is a very bad sign for re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and Egypt. For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man was quoted this week spec­u­lat­ing that Egypt may can­cel the peace treaty and that the IDF should be­gin pre­par­ing to re­in­force its forces near the Egyp­tian bor­der.

This re­port caused the chair­man of the Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces, Field Mar­shal Mo­hamed Hus­sein Tantawi, to say that Egypt would “break the legs” of those com­ing close its bor­der.

Mar­shal Tantawi’s com­ments dis­mayed Is­raeli of­fi­cials, who have seen him as the main sta­bil­is­ing fig­ure in Egypt since the rev­o­lu­tion.

PHOTO: AP

Sab­o­taged gas pipe­line ex­plod­ing in el-arish, Egypt, last month

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