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Egypt’s Mursi Can’t Have It Both Ways on Israel

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By Lisa Beyer

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's Israel problem is becoming increasingly manifest. To the Muslim Brotherhood, the political organization from which he emerged, Israel is an anathema. Yet Mursi knows that to maintain international credibility, not to mention $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, he must maintain Egypt's relations with its Jewish neighbor. So he's been trying to have it both ways: disrespecting Israel, but not too much.

This  game has just gotten more dangerous. In recent days, the Egyptians have dispatched tanks to the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula, which separates Israel from the Egyptian mainland, though the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty allows them only in the west. The deployment is part of an offensive against Muslim extremists, such as those who killed 16 Egyptian soldiers on Aug. 5 before breaking through the border into Israel, where the Israeli military killed them.

Israel supports Egypt's crackdown -- extremists have repeatedly attacked Israel from Sinai -- and has waived the treaty's limitations to allow for increased Egyptian troop deployments and the use of helicopter gunships. This time, however, the Egyptians didn't bother to ask for a waiver.

The Israelis have tried to resolve the breach through quiet diplomacy. Mursi's spokesman rewarded that discretion by denying that Israel had complained. Meanwhile, Egypt's state-run Al Ahram newspaper claimed the Israelis were lying about a lack of coordination between the two governments.

The reactions brought to mind an earlier affair, when Mursi's office denied sending Israeli President Shimon Peres a letter after news of it had raised a stir within the Muslim Brotherhood. The letter -- a normal exchange between two heads of state -- was already a matter of public record.

This kind of amateurish dissembling makes a clown of the Egyptian president and a joke of the movement he represents. Violating an international treaty with tank deployments makes the buffoonery unfunny.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Aug/22/2012 17:03 GMT

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