“The major problem . . . is the greater accessibility to Gaza from Sudan and Libya,” Oren said, referring to the decline in Egyptian vigilance since Mubarak fell 21 months ago. Egypt borders both Libya and Sudan, as well as Gaza. “And the flow of arms from Libya has been significant.”
Israeli military officials said they would have to “wait and see” how a military operation into Gaza would be affected by what they called “the new realities on the ground.”
But one sign that Israel may have taken the new realities of the Middle East into account was the death toll: After three days, 23 Palestinians have died in the Israel air assaults; in the first two days of Operation Cast Lead, which also began as an aerial assault before Israeli troops invaded a week later, 290 Palestinians were killed.
And there were many who thought that in Egypt’s case at least sympathy for Hamas would not lead to any concrete support for besieged Gaza. Zaid Akl, a political analyst at Cairo’s al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, noted that Israel had agreed to a cease-fire during Kandil’s visit, a sign that some sort of back-channel communication path existed.
“Yes, Egypt will play a bigger role than our former government used to play on behalf of the Palestinians. However, we will maintain the essential line of cooperation with Israel and diplomatic relations. We cannot be openly aggressive,” Akl said.
Akl said Morsi must balance the demands of many Egyptians, perhaps most, who have never embraced the spirit of the 1979 Camp David Accords, and the needs of the state. Morsi understands he cannot maintain relations with the United States and threaten Egyptian-Israeli relations. In many ways, Egypt cannot afford to make major changes, Akl said.
The result, Akl said, is that both Egypt and Israel find themselves in uncharted, murky waters.
Morsi’s goal is to show Egyptians that he is dealing with the situation differently from the way Mubarak would have handled it, while at the same time not angering the United States.
“The best way Morsi demonstrated that was to send Kandil to Gaza,” he said, allowing the Egyptian government to show sympathy for Gaza while back-channel coordination showed “we are not on bad terms with Israel.”
Some residents of Gaza said they appreciated the new tenor from the Arab’s world’s most populous state.
“There is a difference between Egypt in 2010 and Egypt 2012, they are with us by their hearts and souls,” said Maphaz Ahmed, 22, who works on an advocacy team to raise awareness about the Palestinian cause. “We feel that we are not alone.”
Special correspondent Ismail reported from Cairo. Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report from Beirut.