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Israeli ties with Egypt strained by transition?

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Israelis are furious that a multi-billion gas sales contract with Egypt was cancelled this week. And for good reason.

Though Egyptian officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insist the decision wasn't political, it's hard to see annulling the largest ever contract between the two countries as anything but.

What comes next?

Egypt Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Aboul Naga suggested yesterday that her cash-strapped government has adopted what amounts to a negotiating position. If Israel and the private Egyptian and Israeli investors who served as the middlemen in the original agreement agree to pay more, the gas might flow again, she said.

But the Israeli Finance Ministry has it about right: Egypt's decision could set “a dangerous precedent that casts clouds over ... the atmosphere of peace between Egypt and Israel," the ministry said in a statement.

Egypt in many ways now seems rudderless. It has a government nominally run by a military junta, a frustrated Muslim Brotherhood that has won parliamentary elections but so far been unable to exercise any real power, and a Mubarak-era bureaucracy that is trundling along and largely left to its own devices. But one clear, consistent trend is evident across the country's many competing power centers: Xenophobia is in, the old ways of doing business with Israel and the US are on the way out.

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