Reports say President Barack Obama is urging the Egyptian government to intervene in the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in which three Israelis and 19 Palestinians have been killed.
According to The Guardian, Obama is urging the Egyptian leader President Mohammed Morsi, to help negotiate between the two sides to prevent further escalation of violence and bloodshed. The Guardian reports Obama called on President Mohamed Morsi to refrain from action that could threaten the peace accord with Israel. Digital Journal reports the Egyptian government had pledged to honor the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
However, The Washington Post notes that rather than play peacemaker in the ongoing crisis, the Egyptians appear to be snubbing Obama and encouraging Hamas's aggression.
The Daily Mail observes that the present situation in which the US government appeals to a government run by the radical "Islamist" Muslim Brotherhood is seen by many as an indication of the withering of the United States' strategic position and influence in the Middle East after popular Islamist political movements have largely replaced the secular dictatorships that the US propped up before the so-called Arab Spring revolution.
The weakening effect of the Arab revolution on America's strategic position in the Middle East is most felt in Egypt, the region's most populous and influential country, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has replaced Hosni Murbarak's secular government that most Arabs considered a "puppet" of Western powers.
Obama spoke with Morsi on Wednesday. He urged him to prevail upon Hamas to stop the rocket attacks and forestall an escalation of the conflict. A statement issued by the White House after the two leaders had spoken acknowledged Egypt's "central role in persevering regional security" but stressed that the US government condemned Hamas' rocket attacks in southern Israel and upholds the right of Israel to self-defense.
Obama also spoke with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He urged Netanyahu to avoid civilian casualties.
The perspective of the conflict from the Egyptian side was at odds with the view from the White House. Morsi said he told Obama that Israel had the responsibility to stop the offensive. However, he said he agreed with Obama to work to prevent any escalation of the conflict and continuation of Israel's military aggression.
Morsi, in a significant departure from the White House position, did not condemn Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel nor did he say that Hamas should stop the attacks. Rather, he denounced the Israeli offensive, saying it was "unacceptable aggression" and dispatched his Prime Minister Hisham Kandil to Gaza. A hoped for peacemaking trip to Gaza by the Egyptian Prime Minister turned out to be an opportunity for Egypt to show its support for Hamas.
Israel had announced it would suspend military operations in Gaza while the Egyptian Prime Minister was visiting. But the promise was broken when Israel responded to rockets fired from Gaza with an attack on the home of Hamas' commander in southern Gaza.
During his visit, the Egyptian PM was hosted by Gaza's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The two visited Palestinians wounded in the Israeli attacks at Shifa hospital, Gaza City. The Egyptian PM was shown the body of a four-year-old boy who was allegedly killed in an Israeli attack.
Gaza authorities claimed the boy was killed around 8:30 am after the Egyptian PM Kandil had entered the territory. Israel denied the allegation, saying it did not carry out any attack in the area during the time the boy allegedly died. According to the Daily Mail, in a Twitter statement, the Israelis said: "Even though about 50 rockets have fallen in Israel over the past two hours, we chose not to attack in Gaza due to the visit of the Egyptian prime minister. Hamas is lying and reporting otherwise."
However, Kandil blamed the Israelis for the death of the boy and called on them to end the offensive.
The open support that the Egyptians have given Hamas is not surprising. Digital Journal reports that the Muslim Brotherhood that rules Egypt is the spiritual mentor of Hamas. Hamas, being the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood has been emboldened by the rise of the group to power in Egypt.
While US officials are upset with Morsi's statements, he has been more moderate than the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohammed Badie, who denounced Israel as the "project of the devil" in a speech he delivered in Sudan on Thursday, the Daily Mail reports.
Morsi is under pressure to moderate his utterances to avoid a rift with the US which provides Egypt with $1.5 billion in aid each year. The aid comes with strings attached: that Egypt must continue to uphold its peace deal with Israel.
On the other hand, Morsi's government is under pressure from extremist elements in the Muslim Brotherhood who are urging a hardline stance. Some analysts say Morsi's public posture may only be an attempt to pander to the hawks in the Brotherhood.
While opponents of the Obama administration have criticized it for maintaining direct contact with The Muslim Brotherhood that was for long labelled a terrorist group by the US government, the strategic significance of US contact with the Islamist government of Morsi has been pointed out by analysts: It provides the US with the only means of leveraging influence in delicate Middle East affairs.