Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador puts pressure on Egypt to downgrade ties following outrage over the killings of Egyptian policemen on the Sinai border with Israel, analysts said.
But they said post-Mubarak Egypt’s military rulers are unlikely to expel the Jewish state’s envoy despite widespread calls for his expulsion and for Cairo to revise its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Turkey’s decision to expel the ambassador over the deaths of nine Turkish activists when Israeli commandos raided an aid shipment to Gaza comes at a time of growing debate in post-revolutionary Egypt on ties with Israel.
Ankara, positioning itself as a regional leader, has in the past embarrassed Egypt with its outspoken condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, in contrast to the restraint of now ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
“Turkey teaches Egypt a lesson and expels the Israeli ambassador,” screamed a headline splashed in red across the front page of Saturday’s Al-Masry Al-Youm, the country’s largest independent newspaper.
“The timing of Turkey’s announcement and especially the reduction in the level of diplomatic ties puts Egyptian authorities in an embarrassing position,” said Issandr El Amrani, an independent analyst and blogger.
“It makes Turkey look decisive while Egypt looks ambivalent,” said Amrani, who blogs on www.arabist.net.
Turkey announced the expulsion on Friday after a UN report accused Israel of using excessive force during the May 2010 raid on the Turkish-led flotilla for the Gaza Strip.
It also came weeks after Egypt’s caretaker government appeared to struggle with a response to the shooting to death of five of its policemen in the Sinai along the border with Israel on August 18.
The cabinet at first said it would recall its envoy from Tel Aviv but then removed the threat from its website. Days later, it denied it had taken any decision at all as street protests raged outside Israel’s embassy.
One protester became a national hero after he clambered up to the embassy on a top floor of a highrise and replaced Israel’s flag with the Egyptian flag.
Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the influential Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, said Turkey’s move would add to the sentiment that Cairo’s response was inappropriate after settling for an apology and an investigation.
“This will lead to more pressure, because all the political forces were calling for the Zionist ambassador’s expulsion. People feel the measures taken did not restore dignity to Egyptians,” he said.
Turkey’s expulsion of the envoy, analysts said, also highlighted the shrinking influence of Egypt, once a regional leader which now depends heavily on US aid.
“This will pressure Egypt’s government, but the situation has many facets,” said Mustafa Ellabbad, director of the Cairo-based Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies.
“Turkey wants to give a lesson, that with political will and a strong economy you can treat other countries as equals,” he said.
“If you have neither, you can’t,” he said. “The situation in Egypt is different because of its large reliance on American foreign aid, which affects political decisions.”
Egypt’s military, in charge since Mubarak’s ouster in February, receives more than one billion dollars from Washington yearly in a trade off after Cairo became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.
It now faces pressure to revise the treaty, which allows it limited access to the Sinai peninsula, from which Israel withdrew after the 1979 treaty.
Retired General Abdelmoneim Kato, who remains close to the ruling generals, said Egypt had considerations other than Turkey when it came to deciding on a response to the deaths of its citizens.
“The incident of the (Gaza aid ship) was different from the border incident, so there is no comparison,” he said.
“The peace is strategic for Israel, for Egypt, and for the whole world,” the general said, noting that Mubarak was seen as one of Israel’s closest regional allies despite the cold peace between the two countries.
A major diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Israel was triggered by the death of the policemen on August 18 as Israeli forces chased Palestinian militants along the border after a deadly attack nearby.