But political leaders and analysts said Morsi is toeing a fine line as he tries to balance a sense of accountability to Egyptian voters with a desire to maintain stability along what remains a potentially volatile border.
As Egypt’s first elected president, Morsi has grappled with the challenge of distinguishing his government from the regime of Hosni Mubarak, who was widely viewed as a lackey for Israeli and U.S. interests in the region and was ousted last year.
Morsi is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties to Hamas, the Islamist organization that rules Gaza. And Egyptian political parties, activists and the local media called on Morsi on Thursday to chart a new course with the Jewish state, with which Egypt has maintained a cold peace since 1979.
Some politicians, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, called on Morsi to sever ties with Israel.
The conflict in Gaza comes at a critical juncture for Egypt, the Arab world’s largest country, as it pushes to ratify a new constitution and seeks a multibillion-
dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to revive a deeply battered economy.
Severing ties with Israel would put Egypt’s already weakened relationship with Washington on shaky ground and could further threaten the $2 billion that Egypt receives annually in U.S. aid.
“While trying to show solidarity with Hamas, the last thing they need or should want is a major conflict in Gaza,” said Dennis Ross, a former senior Middle East adviser to President Obama and President Bill Clinton.
“If they don’t act to get Hamas to stand down, they may end up paying a major price in terms of assistance from the outside,’’ said Ross, who is a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “So is their ideology going to trump their economic needs?”
But Morsi also faces a need to maintain credibility on the part of his fledging government, widely seen as a test case in what many Arabs hope will become a broader effort to establish effective Islamist governments to succeed the military-dominated secular governments toppled in the Arab Spring.
“A lot of people will ask, ‘What are the major changes between you and the previous regime?’ ” said Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party.
Morsi’s Islamist credentials have heightened Egyptians’ expectations that their president would stand strong against a deeply unpopular ally, Bakkar said. “People here are very much with the Palestinians, and they want to help them by any means. So it is difficult for him to convince people that these steps are sufficient,” he said.