As diplomatic tensions between Egypt and Israel escalated yesterday, Jerusalem struggled to find the delicate balance between applying pressure to get better security cooperation from Cairo, and the need to keep Egyptian-Israeli relations from deteriorating further.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit of Egypt told a local television station on Monday that his country may "retaliate" diplomatically against what he perceived as Israeli lobbying in Washington against Cairo's interests. Such retaliation may include working against Israel's interests in African countries and elsewhere.
A Jerusalem aide to Prime Minister Olmert said yesterday that Israel does not lobby against Egypt on Capitol Hill. "Our friends in Washington are quite aware of our concerns," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he said Egypt had failed to take action to stop weapons and cash from being smuggled to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. "But we have no interest in worsening relations," he added.
Israel's former ambassador to Washington, Daniel Ayalon, said Egypt's allegations that Israel has been lobbying against it are untrue, and that Cairo may be conducting its current public campaign in an attempt to push Israel to start lobbying for the North African nation. "Israel does not lobby either for or against Egypt," he told The New York Sun yesterday. "It would be stupid for us to do so."
Recently, Congress placed restrictions on $100 million of Egypt's $2 billion in annual American assistance, conditioning the release of the funds on stronger Egyptian action against Gaza smuggling. Mr. Ayalon identified such legislators as Rep. Tom Lantos, a Democrat of California, as having had long concerns over the issue, but in Egypt, as elsewhere in the Arab world, Israel's legendary power to affect Congress is seen as responsible for the legislation.
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