Israel willingly acceded to Cairo’s request for permission to deploy fighter planes and armored troop carriers in Sinai, which was ruled a demilitarized buffer zone under their 1979 peace treaty. It shared an interest in President Mohamed Morsi’s counter-terror offensive against lawless Islamist bands.
But when sensational reports started coming in from Cairo about non-existent Egyptian victories in which an improbable “60 gunmen killed,” they realized the “offensive” was largely bogus.
According to debkafile’s intelligence sources, Washington and Jerusalem strongly suspect that they should be worried about what the Muslim Brotherhood president is really up, especially after the sweep he conducted Wednesday, Aug. 8 of pro-Western military officers and other moves.
1. Until then, President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership were deemed two separate and competing power bases in Cairo, with the president ready to defy the Brotherhood by leaning on the supreme military council for support.
This perception broke down in the aftermath of the terrorist raid of Aug. 5 in which 17 Egyptian troops were murdered at their Mansoura base in northern Sinai. By his subsequent actions, Morsi put paid to the impression, which was supported by many high-ranking members of Israel’s security community, that the Egyptian president of two months had chosen an independent path and was ready to break ranks with the Brotherhood.
2. Wednesday, Aug. 8, with considerable fanfare, Morsi sacked key military officials in an apparent purge of those responsible for the Sinai debacle.
Chief of intelligence Gen. Mourad Mowafi was sent into retirement and Maj. Gen. Mohamed Shahata given an interim appointment in his stead. The same bulletin announced that the head of the Supreme Military Council and defense minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, had fired the head of the military police, Maj. Gen. Hamdy Badeen.
Our sources disclose that Tantawi had no part in this or any other military dismissals, although they were his prerogative. Morsi quite simply seized the moment to appropriate the top military command’s authority for the first time by taking upon himself the firing and hiring of military officers.
The president furthermore sacked the head of the Republican Guard, the division responsible for safeguarding the president and members of his regime and replaced him with an officer loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, Maj. Gen. Hamed Zaky.
Morsi’s highhanded actions, especially in the case of Gen. Mowafi, are seen in Washington and Jerusalem as the first steps in the Brotherhood’s takeover of the Egyptian army.
3. Mowafi had to go because he stood in the way of Muslim Brotherhood objectives. It was he who raised the alarm for months about an impending terrorist attack on the Egyptian-Gaza-Israel border junction and urged the deployment of attack helicopters for preemptive missile attacks on their networks.
Instead of being commended, our sources report he was fired for two reasons: For what the MB thought of as his pro-western and pro-Israeli orientation; and for his efforts to broker a compromise deal for unifying the two Palestinian wings, the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
However, this not what the Brotherhood wants. Rather than Palestinian unity and compromise, the MB seeks a Hamas takeover of the Ramallah-based Fatah wing headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
Gen. Mowafi stood in the way of this goal.
At the same time, the new man, Gen. Shahata, had to be satisfied with an interim appointment as head of intelligence. The MB does not trust him to be loyal and regards him as pro-Western – albeit less well-connected than Mowafi. They will use him as a stopgap until they find an intelligence chief who understands where his allegiance belongs – and then drop him too.
In the “counter-terror offensive” charade, the MB assigned Hamas in Gaza a key role. According to the script, Cairo would give Hamas an ‘ultimatum” to surrender the Al Qaeda-linked Army of Islam operatives alleged to have carried out the raid on the Egyptian base. The Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo would then be able to close the books on the episode and avoid even the semblance of an offensive against Salafi terrorist networks in Sinai.
Israel’s diplomatic-security cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Friday, Aug. 10, freely approved the transfer of assault helicopters to Sinai “for a few days”- although it didn’t take a counter-terror expert to realize that there is no way a couple of helicopters could wipe out hidden terrorist networks in just days. But the ministers decided on advice from Washington to go along for now with the show Morsi and the Muslim Brothers were putting on, so as not to look obstructive.