JERUSALEM –– A senior Israeli official described Egypt's new government on Friday as a "shocking dictatorial force" and predicted there would be no high-level contacts between the two countries, but the Israeli government distanced itself from his comments.
The remarks by Amos Gilad, a top aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, were some of the harshest yet about the rise to prominence of Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsy, who was elected in June.
Speaking at a security conference, Gilad said the liberal forces behind the uprising which overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 had evaporated.
"From this democracy what has sprung is a shocking dictatorial force," he said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio. "Where are all the young people who were demonstrating in Tahir Square? They have vanished."
Barak's office later put out a statement saying that the comments picked up by the media did not reflect the position of the defense establishment nor Gilad himself.
"At the focus of what was said, [Gilad] emphasized the strategic importance of the peace agreement with Egypt and the importance of working relations with Egypt," the statement said. "The defence establishment and [Gilad] do not intend to interfere in Egypt's internal issues."
Mursi has faced some criticism at home from non-Islamists concerned about other voices being marginalised in Egypt.
On the whole, however, Egyptians acknowledge he is a democratically elected leader and any disagreements should be resolved in the political arena or at the ballot box.
Despite a peace treaty signed by the two countries in 1979, relations between Israel and Egypt have never been warm and Israelis watched with consternation as the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood rose to prominence.
Morsy resigned from the Brotherhood –– which describes Israel as a racist and expansionist state –– on taking power and has avoided inflammatory language.
He has said Egypt would continue to abide by international treaties, including the 33-year-old peace deal.
Gilad, however, said at the conference that he saw little prospect of talks.
"The President of Egypt, Morsy, cannot utter the words 'the State of Israel'," he said. Morsy has tended to avoid direct references to Israel in his speeches or public comments.
"There is no dialogue between our high-ranking political echelon and this president, and I don't think that there will be," Gilad said.