Israel’s expressions of concern for Egypt’s deployment of tanks in the Sinai are both ironic and hypocritical. The 1979 peace treaty restricts the force-level Egypt can maintain there. This, is turn, has helped turn the region into a smuggler-terrorist paradise where Al Qaeda and native Bedouin tribes reign. After a recent terror attack that took the lives of 15 police officers and nearly ended in a penetration of the Israeli border that could have been disastrous, Egypt has moved aggressively to take back the area. This should be what Israel wants it to do. But apparently, Israel believes Egypt can control the region with a few hundred under-equipped police officers. Here is the mealy-mouthed hypocrisy emanating from Barak’s defense ministry:
“We must be very severe with abiding by the spirit and the letter of the peace treaty — otherwise we will be on a slippery slope, and no one knows where this might lead,” the senior official said…
Does the “letter and spirit” of the peace treaty also call for turning the Sinai into a terrorist base from which to launch attacks on Egypt and Israel? Or does the latter feel that it should be the sole power patrolling Sinai? Perhaps a new treaty that will give the area back to Israel?
I find, and certainly Egyptians do as well, the notion that a nation cannot decide for itself how to protect its own sovereign territory to be offensive. What nation would agree willingly to this, especially when its own forces come under attack from this territory? I don’t think Egypt owes Israel any explanation. In fact, it should be self-evident that what it’s doing benefits Israel too since it will be that much harder to mount terror attacks of the sort that hit Eilat last summer, killing eight Israelis and five Egyptian troops (killed by Israel).
Perhaps when Israel finally agrees to a peace treaty with the Palestinians it may agree to forego the right to patrol in a large area inside the Green Line in order to respect Palestinian fears that Israel will mount an offensive against it from this territory? I’m sure Israel would have no problem with such a proposal.
The foolishness of all this is that Israel denies to Egypt what it routinely arrogates to itself: a strong, robust military presence to protect its security.
Egypt’s new government has further complicated things by sending its president to an upcoming non-aligned conference in Iran. The same one that the UN’s Ban Ki Moon has announced he plans to attend. The latter visit has irked Bibi Netanyahu so strongly that he attempted to organize a social media campaign to stop the visit. Apparently, it hasn’t gone as viral as he had hoped and Ban still intends to participate. Of course, the Israeli leader has ignored the fact that UN leaders routinely attend such summits. And that this one, at which 120 nations will be represented, allows Ban to mingle with well over half of his international constituency. But as far as Bibi is concerned, Ban is being a troublesome uppity “Negro” when it comes to Iran as you can see from this NY Times article.
Pres. Morsi’s decision to visit Iran doesn’t follow the script that Israel and the U.S. have written in which a strongly united Sunni front stands unalterably opposed to Iranian hegemony. Further, according to this narrative, the Sunni states of the Gulf, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are so frightened of the ayatollahs that they’d secretly welcome an attack on their arch-enemy. A divided Muslim Middle East offers support for the notion that Israel and/or the U.S. could attack Iran and not wreak havoc with the regional order as most experts maintain.
But Egypt is rewriting the script, which can’t make Israel happy. Egypt is maintaining an independent posture that embraces neither narrative. It’s maintaining an open mind, something that also irks Israel. That country still hasn’t fully woken from the nightmare that was the Arab Spring. There is a new order in the Middle East. The strongmen are out. The people are ruling or at least trying to rule in those nations where the seeds of democracy started to take root. Populism is the order of the day, not authoritarianism. If Israel doesn’t recognize that it is now dealing with a multi-polar world in which it can’t buy off the élite, then it will learn that lesson the hard way. Perhaps a war, perhaps a number of other ways in which its power and interests will be opposed or circumvented. The nation that doesn’t recognize such new developments is one that could rapidly become irrelevant.
Morsi is sending Israel and the U.S. a signal that he won’t be a silent partner in Israel’s hegemonic aspirations regarding Iran. He will chart his own course. Other nations like Turkey are doing the same. Israel will have to navigate these uncharted waters. It has done a poor job of it so far.
As is to be expected, Jodi Rudoren has published an article that embraces this Israeli narrative instead of treating it as but one among many that should be entertained seriously. Yes, she’s the Israel correspondent, but that’s no reason to give short shrift to the Egyptian perspective or even the Iranian for that matter.
This article appeared at Tikun Olam