Still, there are indications that Morsi may choose a more confrontational posture sooner rather than later. On Tuesday, the Brotherhood’s political party announced that its legal committee was working on a new draft law to unilaterally amend Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Meanwhile, prominent Muslim Brothers have made hostile gestures towards Israel in recent months, including the Supreme Guide’s call for a “holy jihad” for Jerusalem, as well as Morsi’s answering “amen” to an imam who prayed for the destruction of Jews.
Morsi has also demonstrated that he knows how to use a crisis to advance the Brotherhood’s political agenda. He responded to August terrorist attacks in Sinai by quickly firing the military chiefs who posed the greatest threat to the Brotherhood’s rule. Similarly, he may use the current flare-up to accelerate the Brotherhood’s pursuit of its anti-Israel ambitions. Whether or not Morsi uses the current fighting in Gaza to break off Israeli-Egyptian relations entirely now, it is clear that this remains the Muslim Brotherhood’s ultimate ambition.
This is where Washington comes in. While the Obama administration cannot change the long-held aims of an insular, extreme movement like the Muslim Brotherhood, it must work to prevent the Brotherhood from pursuing those aims anytime soon. The administration can begin by telling Morsi very clearly that while he is free to disagree with the United States on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he cannot disagree on the importance of maintaining Egypt-Israeli relations, which have served to prevent war between two of the region’s strongest militaries for the past three-plus decades.