Working behind the scenes
Israel is to establish an unprecedented spy centre to eavesdrop on, and meddle with, post-revolutionary Egypt
April 19, 2012
Although more than one month has passed since the recommendations of the Arab Affairs Committee in Egypt's People's Assembly were issued, 12 March, regarding Egypt's foreign policy in the coming phase, the impact of these recommendations continues to echo in statements by Israeli commentators and experts. They view the statement read by the committee's chairman, Mohamed Idris, as a clear indicator of the changes that have occurred in Egypt -- most significantly, that the committee statement avoided using the name "Israel" and instead used the term "Zionist entity", and that the parliamentary committee asserted that Israel is "the primary enemy that threatens Egypt's national security". It also called on the Egyptian government to support and assist the Palestinian people in their armed struggle against Israeli occupation forces.
Yehuda Halevi, an expert at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, said that if the new regime in Egypt adopts the committee's recommendation that Israel is "the primary enemy that threatens Egypt's national security" this would mean that Egypt would be required to rebuild its military power to confront this threat. This includes in the nuclear domain, which would make Egypt's actions an existential threat for Israel. Halevi suggested that Tel Aviv should consider the transformations taking place in Egypt and prepare and take necessary precautions to confront any action by Egypt in the future that threatens Israel.
The government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not wait for such recommendations to be issued by Egypt's parliament and has already taken steps to confront what it views as the threat of Egypt becoming an enemy state. It decided to build what it described as the "largest intelligence compound" in the Negev Desert, at a location close to Sinai, whose main mission will be to spy on and conduct intelligence gathering on Egypt in the coming phase. The compound will be the largest espionage and surveillance station in the world. Its mission will include intercepting telephone calls, electronic messages and data sent via satellite and marine communication cables in the Mediterranean Sea. It will also gather electronic data and monitor communications by the government, organisations, firms and individuals, and will include buildings on an area of more than 600,000 square metres.
The decision to build the new intelligence compound was based on a recommendation by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) that highlighted the need for Israel to know what is taking place in Egypt, especially after the revolution. This would forewarn Israel before Egypt takes any action (military or diplomatic) against Israel, so it can take the necessary measures to counter it and not be victim to surprise. The INSS stressed that Israel should pay more attention to intelligence matters and called on decision- makers in Tel Aviv to accumulate both traditional and non- traditional military power to ensure Israel's victory in any future confrontation with Egypt.
The INSS called on the Israeli army's leadership to revive methods and practices used by the army in the past that gave Israel an edge over its enemies, especially Egypt. These include covert work behind "enemy" lines since this is one of the main lessons it learnt from the Arab Spring revolutions. The military leadership has adopted this recommendation, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced the formation of a military leadership in the army called "Depth Leadership" that is responsible for organising and plotting operations by the Israeli army in the heart of Arab states after the Arab revolutions.
Recommendations to decision-makers also included markedly increasing the size of the armed forces, especially infantry and naval forces, as well as rebuilding military power and investing in anti-missile systems whether in the fields of research or development.
At the same time, former deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army Ozi Dayan urged Tel Aviv not to hesitate in ordering the army and Israeli special units to carry out operations inside Sinai under the pretext of foiling operations against Israel being launched from there.
But Israel is not only taking military precautions to confront various possible scenarios in Cairo. There are clear indications that Tel Aviv is working behind the scenes to influence Egypt's political reality in coordination with the US. They are trying to force the next Egyptian government to adhere to the policies of Mubarak's regime on the Arab-Israeli conflict. One of the most pertinent recommendations sent to Netanyahu's government is that it should ask the US administration to pressure Arab Gulf states to use their financial aid to Egypt to remanufacture the Mubarak regime, or at least to link Arab aid with commitment by the new regime in Cairo not to deviate from Mubarak's policies and strategies, especially in the last decade of his rule.
Since the Israelis are aware that the world economic crisis prevents the US from allocating any funds to influence events in Cairo, the Israelis are suggesting that President Obama should urge the leaders of Gulf states to use some of the massive profits from the surge in oil revenues to influence the future of events in Cairo.
Israeli television revealed that Netanyahu's office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry are working in secret with Washington about how to influence the future of events in Cairo. It also reported that over the past months there has been an exchange of many "creative" ideas between Tel Aviv and Washington about how best to discreetly influence the Egyptian regime in the future.
Steps taken by Israel along with its advice to the US administration are mostly based on the recommendations of hundreds of studies by Israeli research centres that were encouraged by decision-makers in Tel Aviv. For example, a study conducted by US and Israeli researchers published by the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel suggested that the West -- especially the US -- should link all types of aid to Egypt in the future to how much the military leadership maintains its status and powers. The military is viewed as upholding the approaches and policies of the Mubarak regime.
General Ron Tira (retired), who held senior positions in Israeli intelligence, believes that the greatest strategic threat to Israel as a result of the Egyptian revolution is that future governments would renege on the commitments of the Camp David Agreement that ended hostilities between Egypt and Israel. Tira added that the agreement removed Egypt from Israel's circle of enemies, which enabled the Israeli government to improve the position of Israel in the conflict with other Arab parties as Tel Aviv was able to focus its military attention on other fronts.
He further noted that Camp David helped formulate a strategic partnership between Israel and Mubarak's regime that enabled Israel to carry out several military operations against other Arab parties under ideal circumstances. According to Tira, the strategic partnership with Mubarak's regime peaked during the war Israel launched against Hizbullah in July 2006, and the war on Gaza at the end of 2008. The Mubarak regime provided a favourable regional climate for Israel to continue its strikes, with minimal Arab and international objections. Hence, Israel needs the post-revolution Egyptian regime to follow Mubarak's policies.
An indicator of how closely Israel is following developments in Cairo is its great disappointment with the failed presidential candidacy of Omar Suleiman, vice president to ousted autocrat Mubarak. The disappointment was so strong that political and media figures focussed their anger on former Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer for praising Suleiman after the latter submitted his candidacy papers.
Many Israeli officials and commentators believe that praise by Ben-Eliezer -- who once described Mubarak as "a strategic treasure for Israel" -- was counterproductive. They suggest that the statements incited Egyptian public opinion against Suleiman, which upset decision-making circles in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu then issued strict orders to his ministers and advisers not to comment on the domestic situation in Egypt out of concern that such statements would fuel debate in Egypt against figures of the Mubarak regime who are planning to contest the upcoming presidential elections.
Israeli Radio reported that Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said: "Every Israeli official must realise that any positive remark made by us about any candidate will be counterproductive. We naturally hope and pray that a candidate who believes in Mubarak's policies will win the Egyptian presidential elections, but we cannot express this in a way that would be counterproductive."
Israel is holding its breath. Its leaders hope against hope that the new regime will not deviate from Mubarak's strategic outlook.