The trouble with war is that it has two sides. Everything would be so much easier if war had only one side. Ours, of course. There you are, drawing up a wonderful plan for the next war, preparing it, training for it, until everything is perfect. And then the war starts, and to your utmost surprise it appears that there is another side, too, which also has a wonderful plan, and has prepared it and trained for it.
Tag Archives | Egypt-Israel Relations
There was a strong expectation in Israel yesterday once the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire terms were announced that Hamas was going to accept the deal. Even after Hamas rejected the terms and launched 80 more rockets at Israel yesterday morning, some prominent voices, such as former Israel national security adviser Giora Eiland, were predicting that Hamas would ultimately accept the deal today.
When the bodies of three Israeli settlers - Aftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 - were found on June 30 near Hebron in the southern West Bank, Israel went into a state of mourning and a wave of sympathy flowed in from around the world. The three had disappeared 18 days earlier in circumstances that remain unclear.
Michael Cohen published an article in Foreign Policy a couple of days ago in which he argues that the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship will be marked by “less cooperation, more disagreements, and greater tension.” The piece is headlined “The Democrats Are Finally Turning Away From Israel” with the inflammatory subhead “And it’s high time they did,” but this does not reflect Cohen’s core arguments, and I am 100% confident that he had nothing to do with the title in any way (having been published in FP on numerous occasions, I can say from personal experience that the editors choose the title on their own and the first time the writer even knows about it is when it goes live on the website).
With Al Qaeda’s presence growing in the Sinai, Egypt and Israel have stepped up joint bilateral security cooperation to deal with the threat.
Amidst the turmoil that has ensued throughout post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Qaeda (AQ) has established a stronghold in the Sinai from where jihadists routinely target Egypt and Israel. In turn, Egyptian and Israeli security forces have increased cooperation to address the Sinai’s security challenges, underscoring that the bilateral relationship remains intact. While in the longer term the direction of bilateral relations remains uncertain, in the near term Al Qaeda’s actions have strengthened security ties between Egypt and Israel. Al Qaeda’s actions in the Sinai and Levant have also served to enhance the likelihood that other governments in the region, such as Jordan and Turkey, will continue to cooperate with Israel on security–related issues.
An ‘Islamic Emirate’ between Egypt and Israel
Since Israel’s withdrawal from Egyptian territory in 1982, the Sinai has proven to be Egypt’s most ungovernable territory. The Mahahith Amn al-Dawla (MAD) — the highest internal security authority in Egypt — was responsible for ensuring law and order in the restive Sinai and cracking down on underground Islamist movements. Throughout Mubarak’s rule, the MAD prevented Islamist militants from successfully launching more than only a few attacks across the Egyptian-Israeli border. However, Mubarak’s fall led to the MAD’s dissolution, raising question about the Egyptian government’s capacity to effectively combat militant jihadist forces.
As the tumultuous waters continue to swirl in the Middle East, President Mohammed Morsi’s fall, the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Sinai insurgency have added new dynamics to Cairo’s foreign policy.
Egypt’s emboldened interim-government has embarked on a dramatic new path, which includes a restoration of Egyptian-Syrian relations. The growing Egyptian-Syrian partnership has potential to significantly alter the Middle East’s balance of power when the conflicts in both countries finally resolve.
The latter half of the Cold War’s impact on the Arab world, coupled with several important developments that impacted the region’s balance, pitted the strategic interests of Damascus and Cairo against each other. Such transformations included the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, the fall of Iran’s Shah in 1979, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Hezbollah’s 2006 standoff with Israel, the rise of Hamas in Gaza and Western-imposed sanctions on Iran. Consequently, Egyptian-Syrian relations remained peaceful, yet cold, for the majority of the past 39 years. During Hafez al-Assad’s presidency (1970-2000), Syria severed ties with Egypt after it made peace with Israel. However, relations resumed a decade later.
When an important leader of the political opposition hints that a military coup might be preferable to the current chaos, and when a major financial organization proposes an economic program certain to spark a social explosion, something is afoot. Is Egypt being primed for a coup?
It is hard to draw any other conclusion given the demands the International Monetary Fund is making on the government of President Mohamed Morsi including regressive taxes, massive cuts in fuel subsidies, and hard-edged austerity measures whose weight will overwhelmingly fall on Egypt’s poor. “Austerity measures at a time of political instability are simply unfeasible in Egypt,” says Tarek Radwan of the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “He [Morsi] is already facing civil disobedience in the streets, protests on a weekly, if not daily basis, clashes between protestors and security—he does not want to worsen the situation.”
The “situation” consists of wide spread police strikes, particularly in the industrial city of Port Said, but also including parts of Cairo and the heavily populated Nile Delta. The police in Sharqiya have even refused to protect Morsi’s house. At its height the strike spread to half of Egypt’s 27 administrative governorates.
By the time President Mohammed Morsi issued his Constitutional Decree on November 22, the political battle lines in Egypt had been clearly drawn.
One side, mostly comprised the forces of political Islam led by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). But it also included the conservative Salafi groups such as Al-Noor (Light) and Building and Development Parties, as well as other moderate ones such as Al-Wasat (Center), Al-Hadara (Civilization) and Al-Asalah (Authenticity).
The other side encompassed an array of groups and parties from the far left to the far right: those who represented traditional liberal, socialist, and nationalist forces as well as the Coptic Christian church. Ironically, they also included some of the most active revolutionary youth groups such as the April 6 Movement, as well as powerful remnants of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, whom the revolutionaries had vowed to bring down and put on trial for corruption and repression.
Over the past weekend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Egypt for the first time since the election in late June of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Dr. Muhammad Morsi.
During her visit, Clinton not only met with the new president but also sat with Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the same military council that has been effectively ruling the country since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011. According to the New York Times, Clinton declared during her meeting with the Egyptian Islamist president that the U.S. “supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails” and emphasized the need for “building consensus across the Egyptian political spectrum.” The following day Clinton met with Tantawi after which she declared that the U.S. would like to see the Egyptian military return to “purely national security role.”
Across the region her statements were interpreted as a thinly disguised, yet conditional, pledge of support to the new president and a warning to the military not to upset the nascent democratic process in Egypt. Last month as the election results were deliberately delayed by the pro-SCAF Elections Commission the Washington Post reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned his Egyptian counterpart Tantawi in two separate phone calls not to alter the results in favor of the military’s candidate and Mubarak’s last prime minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, but honor the will of the Egyptian electorate and the democratic process.
Despite early assurances by Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi regarding his “commitment to international treaties and agreements,” one can already foretell a likely confrontation between Egypt and Israel. A chaotic transition notwithstanding, a new, post-revolution Egypt is emerging. It is is more self-assertive, emphasizing issues of national dignity and respect. In fact, the word ‘Karama’ - dignity in Arabic - is now paramount in the budding discourse. The key to understanding post-January 2011 Egypt is to appreciate the inferred but real transformation of the collective psyche or Egyptian society, one that is unequivocally challenging the denigrating stereotype of Egyptians as docile and submissive.
This would mean that neither President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, the liberals nor even the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) could steer Egypt in the sole direction of their own interests. Thus Morsi’s words in Tahrir Square on June 29 were by no means detached from a parallel reality of heightened expectations. In fact, no matter how fervent and ardently clear in his rhetoric, Morsi could barely keep up with what the chanting millions expected of him. He said, “I will endeavor to regain Egypt’s free will in its foreign relations. I will abolish all meanings of subordination to any power whatsoever. Egypt is free in all its actions and discourses.”
True, Morsi did state that Egypt would honor its international commitments, as it most likely will, and insinuated that Camp David is one of these. But the peace treaty with Israel is no ordinary ‘commitment’.
Will the Arab Spring serve the cause of Palestine?” is a question that has been repeatedly asked, in various ways, over the last year and a half. Many media discussions have been formulated around this very inquiry, although the answer is far from a simple “yes” or “no.” Why should the question be asked in the first place? Hasn’t the Arab link to the Palestinian struggle been consistently strong, regardless of the prevalent form of government in any single Arab country? Rhetorically, at least, the Arab bond to Palestine remained incessantly strong at every significant historical turn.
True, disparity between rhetoric and reality are as old as the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the relatively small divide between words and actions widened enormously following the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, which cemented US-Israeli ties like never before.
The war brought an end to the dilemma of independent Palestinian action. It shifted the focus to the West Bank and Gaza, and allowed the still dominant Fatah party to fortify its position in light of Arab defeat and subsequent division. The division was highlighted most starkly in the August 1967 Khartoum summit in Sudan, where Arab leaders clashed over priorities and definitions. Should Israel’s territorial gains redefine the status quo? Should Arabs focus on returning to a pre-1948 or pre-1967 situation?
After a tantalizing delay, Egypt’s military authorities accepted the inevitable when Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared president a week ago and took the oath of office on June 30th. A development of such magnitude was unthinkable before Hosni Mubarak surrendered power to the military in February 2011 amid a massive popular uprising against his regime. For nearly 60 years since the 1952 Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had been the main source of opposition to the ruling establishment. The prospect of the Brotherhood’s candidate being allowed to stand, let alone freely campaign, for the presidency had looked remote.
That the Islamist movement has survived despite long state repression, and its own internal conflicts, will be seen as a remarkable feat. Since the Brotherhood’s founding by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, its anti-Western ideology and commitment to an Islamist order as a remedy to the “ills” of colonialism and imperialism have made the movement an object of admiration as well as fear in much of the Muslim world. The organization has transformed itself many a time and promises to work by peaceful means. Even so, its activities, and those of its breakaway factions, have generated profound distrust among many secular and Western-oriented people in the Arab world and beyond.
Morsi’s victory comes in controversial circumstances. Sections of Egypt’s educated middle classes are far from happy. Leading secular and liberal candidates were eliminated, even though together they had gained more than forty percent of the vote in the first round. It meant that Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a prominent figure from the Mubarak era, entered the final round representing opposite poles. Shafiq was initially disqualified as a candidate, but was quickly reinstated. The Egyptian armed forces apparently did not want to let go after the fall of Mubarak from the presidency.
Ever since the toppling of Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the United States has been very nervous with regard to its former client state.
Likewise, most Israeli leaders have been sounding the alarms, warning that the peace treaty with Egypt is in danger and that its relationship with its western neighbor has never been more fragile. Last month, Egyptian authorities, under intense pressure from the public and revolutionary groups, abruptly ended all natural gas shipments to Israel. In addition, the parliamentary elections late last year, which resulted in the overwhelming victory of Islamic candidates, gave early warning signs that Egypt might chart a new independent course to the detriment of U.S. and Israeli policies in the region.
According to multiple well-placed American and Israeli sources, U.S. policymakers have concluded that they must pursue a dual-track policy. The first was to accelerate and broaden the contacts with the new power brokers in Egypt, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in the hope that engaging the Islamist group might result in more moderate policies towards Israel and the West. The second but more potent approach was to devise a sophisticated scheme in order to ensure that the next president of Egypt would be a friendly and trusted face to the West. The selected candidate was Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s former foreign minister and, until his term ended last year, the General Secretary of the Arab League.
Since the popular uprising of 25 January, 2011, protestors have not just challenged the figureheads of the old regime, but the very fundamental power structure upon which Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship had been built.
For thirty years, the army, bureaucrats and capitalists collectively formed an oppressive alliance against any kind of social justice, economic equality and political freedom for ordinary people. Alongside the military’s collaboration with the ruling classes at home, its strategic alliance and subservience to the US crucially facilitated the dictatorship with economic and political survival. Protestors and activists continuing to revolt against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, (SCAF) are not just challenging the authority of the military junta. In reality, they are directly confronting the whole state apparatus - the army, the corrupt bureaucrats, the rule of capital and US hegemony alike. The underlying power structure still being used by the current regime to preserve both its own economic and political privileges and those of its neo-colonial masters is being violently shaken to the core.
The revolutionary voices being expressed in political discourses, informal forums, in slogans, on placards, banners and even in the graffiti sprawled across the cities clearly illustrates how protestor’s aims go beyond electoral reform and parliamentary democracy. People are also seeking social reform: improved healthcare and housing, better education, equal employment opportunities, labour rights, independent trade unions and a higher minimum wage which has not changed for twenty-seven years. People want judicial reform, constitutional changes, an end to military tribunals and the trial and conviction of those guilty of crimes both under the former dictatorship and the current regime. They are pushing for press freedom and an independent media. They want changes in foreign policy such as a renegotiation of the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel.
With the Arab uprisings gradually reconfiguring the regional political landscape, Israel is finding itself increasingly isolated. For at least a decade, Israel has identified Iran as its main strategic nemesis, but the Arab spring has rekindled simmering tensions between Israel on one hand, and Arab states as well as Turkey on the other.
The ongoing conflict within Syria could also jeopardize the implicit modus vivendi between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israel, paving the way for a potential conflict in the future. The whole Arab landscape has actually shifted: the Hezbollah faction is playing a central role in Lebanese politics; the Egyptian public is demanding a reassessment of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty; and the Jordanian government is facing growing domestic political pressure. Israel is grappling with a totally new emerging regional order. Meanwhile, Iran has continued with its nuclear enrichment, meanwhile enhancing its ballistic missile capabilities. Palestine, bolstered by growing international support, is pushing for statehood, circumventing the Israeli-dictated “peace process.”
Domestically, large demonstrations have shaken major Israeli cities, as people across the political and economic spectrum demand crucial economic and social reforms. There are also growing signs of splits within the Israeli bureaucracy over plans to attack Iran. Therefore, unless the Netanyahu administration makes necessary changes in its policies, the country might emerge as the biggest loser of the Arab uprisings. This is the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to redeem itself by pressuring Israel to make necessary compromises, re-evaluate its inhumane policies toward Gaza, and make necessary reforms before it’s too late. The clock is ticking fast.