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September 24, 2017

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No light at the end of Egyptian tunnel for neighbor Israel

JERUSALEM -- Egypt's political upheaval is by no means over, but its uneasy neighbor Israel is not waiting for the outcome. Desert defenses are being strengthened and strategy revised as a once stable relationship splinters.

Shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory in Egypt's presidential vote on Monday, unidentified gunmen crossed the Sinai border and killed an Israeli worker.

There was no suggestion the two events were linked, but the violence underscores how security in the Sinai Peninsula has deteriorated since the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, with no hope of any swift solution while Cairo remains convulsed by political uncertainty.

"What is going on along the southern border worries me ... and the ideology of political Islam in Egypt worries me, so I need to sleep with one eye open," said Ilan Mizrahi, a former Israeli national security adviser and ex-deputy head of Mossad.

Israel faces a dilemma of major strategic consequences.

Its 33-year peace with Egypt has been a cornerstone of regional stability and an economic boon for both countries, thanks in part to generous U.S. aid.

No one expects Cairo to trash the peace accord any time soon, even if the Muslim Brotherhood, which is traditionally hostile to the Jewish State, does manage to consolidate power in the face of an Egyptian military out to conserve its own authority.

A demilitarized Sinai is the keystone of the peace. But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, jihadists and Palestinian militants from next-door Gaza fill the vacuum, tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.

Growing Frustration

Israel has remained largely silent as Egypt has struggled in the difficult transition from de-facto dictatorship to democracy, via revolution and growing Islamization. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered ministers not to talk in public about the situation for fear of exacerbating tensions.

But there are signs of growing public frustration in Israel.

Last August, eight Israelis died in a cross-border attack blamed on Palestinian militants from the nearby Gaza Strip. Earlier this week, Israel said two Grad rockets that hit its territory were fired out of Sinai — a charge Egypt denied.

The worsening security in the south has come at a time of increased tensions in the north, tied to the 15-months-long Syrian crisis, and continuous, low-level warfare in Gaza.

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