Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who formally resigned from the Brotherhood after being elected in June, has not himself blamed Israel for the attack – but he has neither publicly rejected the claim nor reprimanded his Islamist associates for making it.
Official investigations are continuing into Sunday’s incident, in which some 35 gunmen opened fire on the border guards, commandeered two vehicles and tried to force their way across the Egyptian border into Israel.
The Israeli military said its forces killed at least seven of the group, believed to be Palestinian jihadists from the adjacent Gaza Strip – which is ruled by Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the attack, the Egyptian government ordered the immediate closure of the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.
A statement by Egypt’s armed forces called the incident a “terrorist attack” and warned against “schemes and plots hatched against Egypt,” but did not attribute blame.
The Muslim Brotherhood had no such qualms.
“Evidently, this crime may well be the work of Israel’s [intelligence agency] Mossad, which has sought to abort the revolution ever since its launch,” it said in a statement released on Monday night.
It said the attackers aimed to create a “major border problem for Egypt” at a critical time, try to prove the failure of the new government, disrupt Morsi’s “reform project,” and drive a wedge between the Egyptian administration and people on one hand, and the leaders and people of Gaza on the other.
Asked about the Brotherhood statement suggesting the Mossad was to blame – posted prominently on its official website – State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, “I can’t speak to its veracity as something coming from the Muslim Brotherhood. What I can say is, obviously, President Morsi is saying the right things, and we look to him as he continues to confront this.”
The Brotherhood also used the opportunity to renew its call for the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement to be reviewed. Under the treaty Israel withdrew from the Sinai – which it had seized during the 1967 Six Day War – and the peninsula was demilitarized, although during Egypt’s political turmoil early last year Israel agreed that Egypt could deploy a limited number of troops there to ensure security.
“This crime also draws our attention to the fact that our forces in the Sinai lack the personnel and the equipment to protect the region or guard our borders, which makes it imperative to review the terms of our accords with Israel,” the Brotherhood statement said.
Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali, said Tuesday evening Egypt would respect its international treaties and obligations.
Anti-Israeli conspiracy theories are common in the Arab world but Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Israel, said blaming Israel for the Sinai attack was a different matter given the new political realities in Egypt.
“This means something quite different when the Brotherhood was just an opposition group in Egypt. It is now the government,” he said.
“Consider what this means: the organization governing Egypt has accused Israel of launching an attack on Egyptian soil and killing a lot of Egyptian soldiers. Isn’t that a just cause for war? That’s not going to happen but situations like this will arise repeatedly in future and one day can lead to war.”
According to wire service reports, Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniya also blamed Israel, saying the Jewish state “is responsible, one way or another, for this attack to embarrass Egypt’s leadership and create new problems at the border in order to ruin efforts to end the siege of the Gaza Strip.”
Not all Egyptians were buying into the Brotherhood claims.
Al-Ahram reported that Tuesday’s military funeral for the slain border guards at a Cairo mosque was marked by angry protests aimed not at Israel but at Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing of collaborating with Hamas.
Not surprisingly, Morsi did not attend the funerals – a decision his spokesman Ali said was made to allow the public to mourn at the “emotionally charged” event without “obstacles” caused by a presidential cavalcade.
Morsi’s recently-appointed Islamist-leaning prime minister, Hisham Qandil, did try to attend but was attacked by angry protestors and left immediately.
Just hours earlier, the Egypt State Information Service had announced that Morsi would attend and “lead the military and popular funeral of the innocent martyrs.”