Few countries feared Egypt’s postrevolutionary future more than Israel. Ever since Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel, in 1979, the two have enjoyed a functional, if cool, relationship. Former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was one of Jerusalem’s crucial allies, and was described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the man who “kept the peace in the Middle East.” So when Mubarak and his regime were forced from power in the spring of 2011, Israel had reasons to worry about what would come next and whether Cairo’s relationship with Israel—never popular with the Egyptian public at large—would be jeopardized.
At first, these concerns seemed to be legitimate. The initial post-Mubarak governments of Egypt were less friendly to Israel than their predecessor, particularly the short-lived Islamist regime of Mohamed Morsi. But ties between the two countries have strengthened significantly since 2013, and in current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Netanyahu has found a willing partner. Sisi has taken on terrorist groups in the Sinai Peninsula, reined in Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and has cracked down on Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, at home. In fact, Egypt and Israel now appear to be on the brink of a renewed strategic alliance. But whether the Egyptian people will support such a move remains to be seen.
Mubarak’s first successor, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, appeared ambivalent toward Israel during his leadership of the country from 2011 to 2012, and his ruling council helped promote conspiracy theories about Israelis infiltrating Egypt’s security services in order to cause revolutionary unrest. Tantawi was slow to react after crowds attacked the Israeli embassy in Giza in September 2011, intervening only after the United States reached out to Cairo for assistance. And even then, it took a personal request from U.S. President Barack Obama to get the government to help liberate the embassy’s staff. Throughout his tenure, Tantawi did not deal with Jerusalem directly, preferring to use Washington