Israel says it has received a letter from the new President of Egypt, Mohammed Mursi, saying he wishes to work with Israel for peace and stability in the region.
But Cairo says it’s a fake.
The initial reaction to the letter in Israel was one of relief.
Israel is surrounded by difficulties, what with the perceived danger of Iran’s nuclear program, and civil war next door in Syria.
There has also been concern over the southern border, as Egypt’s new leader is a former leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is a sworn enemy of Israel.
After Cairo denounced the letter, there was confusion.
But some officials in Jerusalem are relaxed, saying the letter came through official channels, and “of course” the Egyptians had to deny it.
Voter sentiment in Egypt is largely anti-Israeli.
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Aaron Schachter: It’s a sensitive time in the Middle East. Israel is anxious about a possible nuclear threat from Iran, the civil war in Syria is tumbling out of control, and Egypt is now led by a president who is a former leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood. So it must have come as a relief when a letter arrived in Israel from the Egyptian leader, saying he wanted to work with Israel to promote peace and stability in the region. Only now, Cairo says the letter’s a fake. Matthew Bell is The World’s Middle East correspondent. He is in Jerusalem. Matthew, who delivered the letter and where did it go?
Matthew Bell: The news came out, Aaron, first from the President’s office here in Israel, and that is from Shimon Peres’s office. It started getting a lot of attention immediately because, as you mentioned, Mohammed Mursi, the new President in Egypt, is from the Muslim Brotherhood which is ideologically, religiously, deeply anti-Israel. So here was on the face of it a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, a new President of Egypt, reaching out to Israel in an unprecedented way. Then fairly quickly when you scratched at the surface, reporters starting looking into this, the denials came, and at this point it’s not clear exactly what happened or why.
Schachter: And who is Egypt blaming for the fabrication?
Bell: In the official statements there was finger pointing at the Israeli newspapers that first reported this. You didn’t hear anything specific really. You know, you can start to speculate about what’s going on here, whether the letter was fake, whether it was from some faction within the Egyptian government against another faction, maybe the Egyptian’s President wanted to send a different message to different people. We just don’t know at this point.
Schachter: Now, you have been in Egypt quite a bit recently. What does this episode say about the government there in terms of its unity and coherence?
Bell: This is the most important question, I think, about this episode. I mean here is, we’re all sitting here looking at Egypt and Egyptians as well are looking at their new President, the new government after this dramatic revolution and they’re wondering what direction is Egypt going. And there couldn’t be more of a sensitive topic, I think, in Egypt really than Israel. Yes, Israel and Egypt have had relations since 1979, since the Camp David agreement was signed, they have embassies and ambassadors, but this is not a normal relationship. It’s very fraught, it’s politically sensitive is putting it too mildly. When any issues come up against Israel and Egypt, you just don’t know what’s gonna happen, and I think on this, this is a big question that people have for the new government, what’s going to happen with this very important incredibly difficult relationship?
Schachter: Now, you know, in all the articles about this there are unnamed officials saying, “Well, yeah, Egypt had to say this.” I mean it just sort of points to the precariousness of diplomacy in that part of the region, that someone might actually send a letter like this and then deny that they’ve sent a letter like this.
Bell: That’s right, Aaron. Nothing is so straightforward, nothing is really as it seems here in the Middle East.
Schachter: The World’s Matthew Bell in Jerusalem. Thank you.
Bell: Thank you, Aaron.
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