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Israel

'For Israel it's a hostile environment'

Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Eli Shaked tells DW that with Syria imploding in the north and Egypt in the south, Israelis are watching and waiting apprehensively to see what happens next in a volatile region.

DW: Mr. Shaked, are you surprised that President Mohammed Morsi was removed from power?

Eli Shaked: The fall of Morsi was unavoidable. Morsi made too many mistakes in one year and it got to a point where the army would have to intervene.

What kind of mistakes?

When Morsi was elected a year ago, he promised to be the president of all the Egyptians. But he surrounded himself with Muslim Brotherhood people, he weakened the justice system, and he appointed extreme Muslim Brotherhood people to sensitive posts. For example, the district governor of Luxor in central Egypt - he appointed a person there who was suspected of murdering [former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat.

Morsi also took authority that was beyond even what Mubarak had to set laws and to force Parliament to return to session even though it was cancelled by the Constitutional Court. These things prove that he was not exactly meaning to put in place democratic laws, but rather to serve the Islamic factions he is a part of.

Hosni Mubarak was overthrown largely because of the faltering Egyptian economy. How has the economy been under Morsi?

Much worse. It's been two and a half years of unrest and instability and unfulfilled promises to deal with unemployment, which is important for the young generation, and not getting foreign investment for Egyptian projects. And maybe even more serious is the water issue. Egypt is dealing with a very difficult problem of more people and less water, and now countries like Ethiopia and South Sudan are planning to build dams and reduce the Nile water flowing into Egypt.

History won't have a lot of good things to say about Mubarak, but he kept a status quo. He inherited Egypt after a difficult period and managed for 30 years to hold Egypt's nose a tiny bit above the water. The problems are getting worse in Egypt especially because of the growing population. I've heard something like 1.5 million babies are born a year.

What is the Israeli point of view on all this?

Der frühere israelische Botschafter in Kairo, Eli Shaked (undatierte Aufnahme). Foto: David Katz/ The Israel Project (Achtung: Bestmögliche Qualität, zu dpa 0450 vom 04.07.2013) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Eli Shaked

Israel of course is not a player in these issues. All these past two years we have carefully stayed out of the Egyptian game. Nobody in our government or in Parliament is talking about this.

What's important for Israel - not that Israel can do anything - is that Egypt will restore law and order and stability. It's of primary importance for Israel. Two years ago, when Mubarak was deposed, there was a terrorist attack in southern Israel and you could see Cairo lost nearly all its sovereignty over the Sinai.

Today, that situation has gotten a bit better. Israel allowed the Egyptian army to bring much more military into Sinai, far beyond what's allowed in the peace agreement. There's a very strong mutual interest between Israeli and Egyptian security forces to restore law and order and full Egyptian sovereignty from Cairo over the Sinai. Sinai has become a home for terrorists. They train there and shoot at Israelis and at the Egyptian army. And Egypt also fears a terror attack on its Suez Canal.

What does the fall of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood mean for Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules the Gaza Strip?

Hamas has lost Iran, they have lost Syria and they are losing Egypt. They are much more isolated.

With the turmoil in Egypt, coupled with the war in Syria, it seems like few of Israel's neighbors are stable right now.

Yes. Don't forget about Lebanon, which has internal conflict, and Iraq that's falling apart, as well as Libya and Tunisia.

For Israel it's a hostile environment, full of instability and uncertainty. We don't know - our people, our intelligence, the army, the Foreign Ministry - no one knows what will be tomorrow in Egypt, Syria or Jordan. I don't mean tomorrow next week. I mean tomorrow. It's a very unsympathetic situation for Israel.

Two years ago you said you felt sorry for Mubarak. Do you still?

Two years ago I was sad for Mubarak. Today in Egypt, even the people who worked to bring down Mubarak are sorry. They don't want Mubarak or his family back, but they have second thoughts because Mubarak kept the status quo. And all that is gone.

Eli Shaked served as Israel's ambassador to Egypt from 2003-2005 and as deputy ambassador from 1983-1992. Shaked joined the Egypt desk of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974. He has continued to follow Egyptian affairs since returning to Israel.

DW.DE