Israel, worried about militant attacks, watches Egypt unrest closely

JERUSALEM — A tense Israel is closely observing the events roiling Egypt, its direct neighbor to the south.

Following the Wednesday ouster of former Egyptian president, and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, the Israeli government has refrained from issuing any official comment.

But Israeli media is right now filled with speculation of possible repercussions to the end of the Islamists’ rule there.

Military and security cooperation between the two sides have continued essentially undisturbed throughout the crisis, an Israeli military source told Israel Army radio.

But analysts here also predict the growth of already-established militant organizations in Egypt’s volatile Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel on its northeast front.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, an Islamic militant group operating Sinai, claimed the launch of two rockets toward the southern Israeli city of Eilat Thursday, the day after Morsi was deposed.

Amos Harel, military analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz, says the overstretched Egyptian military will struggle to regain full control over the sprawling Sinai desert where the militants roam. Harel writes that Israelis "should assume that there will be more rocket attacks in the near future."

But following the Brotherhood’s loss of power in Cairo, many local observers foresee the weakening of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and that saw an ally in Morsi.

During Israel’s military operation in Gaza, many saw Morsi as lending Hamas the international credibility it lacked since seizing power in Gaza in 2007.

But in the months before Morsi's ouster, Egypt made significant efforts to block the smuggling tunnels that burrow under the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah. In the immediate aftermath of the army takeover, Egypt shuttered its normal passenger crossing with the impoverished territory.

Some reports say that Palestinian fighters are traveling through the tunnels to Egypt to carry-out attacks in Sinai.

“Israel fears [a] coming Sinai ‘intifada’ against Egypt’s military will spillover across its borders,” Israeli military analyst Daniel Nisman tweeted Saturday. Intifada is the Arabic word for uprising, or literally to shake something off.

Former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, Ashraf al-Ajrami, told Israel Army Radio that Morsi’s downfall may boost efforts to end the division between Hamas and Fatah, the political party that rules the West Bank.

The two have been split since a brief but bloody civil war in Gaza in 2007.

“Hamas benefitted from a lot of support form the Egyptian government” under Morsi, he said.

“I’m not sure they’ll fall, but this will hit them hard,” he said of Hamas. “It may oblige Hamas to move in the direction of [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas.”