Egypt's Military Council Toying with Israel
While the Egyptian revolution was still boiling, Israel and its close allies were concerned that a change of regime in Egypt might compromise its four-decade long peace treaty with Israel. Shortly after Mubarak was toppled, a study conducted by the Egyptian cabinet's Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC), showed that 67% of Egyptians believed "it was important to uphold the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty". For a while this seemed to hold, but now hundreds of protestors are gathered before the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, calling for an end of the treaty. Is Egypt's peace with Israel about to crumble?
Following a terrorist attack near the Israeli resort of Eilat that claimed the lives of eight Israeli civilians and wounded 30 people, the Israeli Defense Forces reacted by killing Hamas terrorist leaders inside Gaza; in the process, some of the attackers fled to the Egyptian border where they detonated a bomb that killed two Egyptian soldiers.
The al-Jazeera news network, however, reported a different story: according to al-Jazeera, Israeli gunships were chasing the terrorists, who were fleeing towards the Egyptian border and launched a strike that killed five Egyptian soldiers in the process.
Shortly after the story broke, scores of Egyptian protesters gathered before the Israeli Embassy in Cairo calling for "Revenge;" for "ending the peace treaty" and "launching a war on Israel." The Egyptian interim government quickly recalled its ambassador from Israel, while the protests before the Israeli Embassy in Cairo continued evolving into an epic scene when an Egyptian young man, who immediately became a national hero called "Spiderman," climbed the 18-storey building in which the Israeli embassy is located, and took down the Israeli flag.
This fiasco served the military council ruling Egypt well in many ways: instantly, it took away the attention of the Egyptian public from their demands, especially those relating to political reform and livelihood, and shifted their focus onto Israel, so now they can drive their anger onto something else while the fact remains that no serious improvements have touched either political freedoms or the livelihoods of Egyptians, who paid for the regime change with their blood.
At the same time, Egypt's military council has been able to remind Israel and the West of the significance of its work by keeping the Egyptian masses from attacking Israel -- a trick all Arab dictators neighboring Israel have played at times of political pressure, be it Jordan's King Abdullah, Syria's Assad or even people as far from Israel as Libya's Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, when he took into the streets with one million Libyans in 2001, all chanting anti-Israeli slogans, and pledging war on Israel at a time when the Bush administration was calling for political reform in Arab countries.
Two things are significant about the ongoing anti-Israeli protests in front of the Israeli Embassy in Egypt: The protesters were few in numbers compared to other protests in Egypt since January 2011. Also, what the protesters were calling for is nothing new: during Mubarak's reign, when Egyptians would face jail and torture for merely criticizing the regime, they were always allowed to organize anti-Israeli protesters. The Egyptian TV industry—one of the most prominent in the Middle East and North Africa-- was not able to criticize the president, but it could criticize and demonize Israel and Jews all they wished. A popular Egyptian lifestyle show, for example, "Roubou Mushakil," or "A Quarter-Pound of Assorted Desserts," rarely comes close to criticizing the government; nonetheless, a fixture of the weekly show is about "Misha'a" and "Isra Ben Samaan," portrayed as two Israeli orthodox Jews who are stupid, ignorant, cheap, and sexually-depraved, with ambitions of working for the Mossad to spy on Arabs. The show has been on Egyptian TV for years, and made it through the Egyptian revolution uninterrupted -- in other words, business as usual.
Moreover, the Egyptian Military Council has been able to utilize the killing of its soldiers perfectly. It is now demanding the redeployment of its soldiers in Sinai Peninsula that lies between Israel and Egypt. While this might seem like an expedient way for even the Israelis to address the problem of Egyptian terrorists and materiel infiltrating into Israel from across the Sinai Desert, it is against the Camp David Peace Treaty that Egypt signed with Israel more than four decades ago to limit Egypt's military presence there. The Egyptian withdrawal from the Sinai Desert was Israel's condition for withdrawing its own forces from Sinai, an area from which which the Egyptians had been unable to drive out the Israelis by force.
The Egyptian military Council is dancing an ugly dance of defusing anger from the public, then pouring it down on Israel. This gambit might escalate into serious trouble for the Military Council before anyone else if it picks up momentum and turns into a public demand for fighting Israel. So far, combat with Israel is not the public's choice; and so far, at least, the leaders of the Egyptian revolution have not called for a million-man-protests for this cause.
Should peace with Israel end, the Egyptian Military Council has the most to lose, as the peace treaty has brought serious US financial support to Egypt's military, approximately $1.3 billion annually, that possibly translates into the lavish life styles by which Egypt's military commanders were reported by al-Jazeera to live, while the revolution was still boiling at Tahrir Square.
The current situation could also serve the Israelis and their American allies as an opportunity to re-establish the understanding for peace with Arab regimes. Many Israelis and pro-Israeli American forces sensualize peace with Arab regimes to the point of romance, such as the peace with the late King Hussein of Jordan, and his son Abdullah, as well as the peace with Egypt under the late Anwar Sadat. These men were not the dovish peace lovers that the Israeli establishment might imagine them to be. They had just given up on fighting Israel when they understood for a fact that they could not defeat Israel at war, and could even end up losing much. But while their war machines have been silenced, other methods have not: their media has always demonized Israel and charged up their people against it; they would not hesitate to harm Israel politically at every opportunity, as in Mubarak's patronage of Arafat, and King Abdullah of Jordan's demographic harassment of Israel by stripping his Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship while going on Israeli TV Channel 2 and saying "Israel faces a demographic threat."
Israel should come to accept that it will always live on hostile ground, no matter what the surface might show; sadly, it should literally stick to its guns, even while talking peace. While there are leaders in the Arab world who might like peace with Israel and democratic reforms, there are also always those who, as in the assassination of Egypt's former president, Anwar Sadat, consider it their holiest duty to make sure that the "true" Way, or Sharia, is taken instead.
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