As the Arab Spring rebellion swept Egypt, Western powers watched nervously to see what government would replace the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Among the nations most interested in the outcome was Israel.
A top secret cable leaked to Al Jazeera reveals that Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, sought detailed information from its South African counterparts on Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, and key figures in his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
On July 30, 2012 - exactly one month after Morsi was sworn in - Mossad cabled the State Security Agency with a secretive request. It asked the South Africans for intelligence on:
- "Further steps you expect the Muslim Brotherhood to take to weaken the influence of the military, the courts and Egypt's Deep State."
- "Beyond the 100-day plan announced by Morsi, what other targets is the Muslim Brotherhood setting to ensure quick achievements with which to impress the public."
- "Details on relations between President Mursi [sic] and the Muslim Brotherhood, including Khayrat al-Shata'ar and Muhammad Badeea. What is the decision making process in the presidency."
- "Details on Mursi's circle of advisors; names, functions in the presidency, ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, ties with Mursi himself."
- "Details on the steps the Muslim Brotherhood is taking to penetrate the security system (military, defense mechanisms, and police), legal system, and civilian bureaucratic system. People in these systems who are known to have/are suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood."
The communiqué raises the question of whether Mossad sought this information purely as observational data with which to brief its country's political leaders. Were the South Africans able to provide such data - and there's no indication in the Spy Cables that the Mossad's queries were answered - it would clearly be of use to any party looking to undermine the Brotherhood's rule.
President Morsi was toppled in a coup in June 2013, after only one year in office. It is of note that Mossad refers to the "Deep State", a term that describes the powerful forces in the military, bureaucracy, judiciary and economic elites that worked to undermine democratic rule in Egypt.
The man who led the military takeover and is now Egypt's president, General Abdel Fatah Sisi, epitomizes the deep state and had consistently warm relations with Israel. And Israel has long had a stake in Egypt being governed by a friendly regime.
The intelligence communities of both countries have had an entwined relationship since their governments signed the Camp David Accords in 1978. President Sisi was previously Egypt's Director of Military Intelligence.
An 'intimate' relationship
In January 2014, the respected Israeli military analyst Ehud Yaari hailed Sisi's "intimate" friendship with Israel. "We have co-operation, unprecedented in scope and intensity and if I may say so, intimacy between Israel, the Egyptian military and the intelligence service", Yaari told an audience in Australia . It was an unparalled partnership, "the best ever. It never reached this point under President Mubarak, not under President Sadat".
Gulf Arab governments, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, publicly backed Sisi's military government and extended financial support. Israel shared the Gulf monarchs' fear of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo, and ran diplomatic interference for the coup by energetically lobbying the Obama Administration to refrain from punishing Sisi's regime for toppling an elected government.
But it has never been clear whether the Israelis played any role in the events that brought him to power.
Any responsible intelligence service would seek to understand the implications of a sudden change of regime in a powerful neighboring capital. Egypt is the most populous Arab country and the first to make peace with Israel; that country's decision makers would certainly want to understand the intentions of new government in Cairo.
But the Israelis sought detailed information on decision-making in the Egyptian leadership, and on specific domestic policy plans. Mossad even asked for the identities of people within the security services, judiciary and bureaucracy perceived as loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Such information would give Israeli decision-makers an extremely detailed picture of political dynamics in Cairo. It would also be very useful to anyone hatching plans to topple a government. It's not the clear equivalent of a burglar seeking the pass code to his neighbor's home alarm - but a suspicious mind might interpret it in that way.
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