Archive for ‘Egypt’

May 20, 2012

Israel Deploys Heavy on the Egyptian Border

by Gedalyah Reback

The prospects for the future between Israel and Egypt are still ambiguous. Egypt’s Sinai is more of a worry than it’s been at any other point in the past 30 years. Since last year’s Egyptian Revolution, Egypt’s natural gas pipeline exporting fuel to Israel has been attacked 14 times. Amidst Israel’s lacking popularity with Egyptians, their government suspended its gas deal with Israel two weeks ago, claiming the deal undervalued the exported fuel and demanded renegotiation. But without the threats to the pipeline, there would have been little motivation to implement the move.

This is the first significant move by Israel’s military to prepare for engagement along the Egyptian border. Two major concerns hang over the heads of Israeli security personnel, on the one hand something a near-term concern and on the other a long-term one. Firstly, like with the pipeline, Bedouin in the Sinai desert might present a threat to Israeli tourists in Egypt. There have been terrorist attacks on resorts in the Sinai before, but the concern is more acute now. Egyptian police initially abandoned the Sinai during the revolution last year. They’ve slowly returned to respond to local instability, though after months of sabotage attacks. With some Bedouin motivated by Islamic militancy, the concern is more terrorists might try to infiltrate Israel.

But, Israel took the initiative last month when the high brass of the IDF requested the Knesset authorize a larger reserve call-up than usual to patrol not just the Syrian, but also the Egyptian border. According to the Reserve Duty Law, updated in 2008, veterans can be called up once every three years unless the IDF requests permission to call up more people more frequently. In this case, six battalions will be split between the two borders with permission to call up 16 more if necessary. The threat from armies is not the priority, but the one posed by smuggling and border raids by terrorists. In the words of Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel, “The army needs a better ‘answer’ than in the past to the threat.”

There is a fading worry Bashar al-Assad would start a war with Israel to distract Syrians from instability at home, focusing rage on an external tormentor. That would probably split the feeble Syrian army at this point. The real concern is Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Here’s why:

Guns to Gaza

The peninsula is home to two different concerns. In Northern Sinai, Bedouin manage smuggling routes into Gaza. In the beginning of May, the Egyptian government captured a massive cache of weapons heading there. That includes huge caches of captured weapons Libya’s rebels sold to Hamas last year. The north’s main city is slowly slipping out of reach of the rest of Egypt. El-Arish is littered by pictures of the fundamentalist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail, showing where Egypt’s Sinai is headed. Construction supplies are stolen by corrupt workers and sold off to be smuggled to Gaza. But most unsettling of all, human trafficking is enforcing the industry of these same crime rings, including kidnapping for ransom, torture, rape and organ theft.

Bedouin leaders are unsettled by where their tribes are going. With unemployment as high as 90% in the Sinai, they receive a lot of lip service from the country’s leaders but little practical help. Consequently, smugglers continue to invest in their businesses, the more and more brutally. Despite whatever imperative local chiefs have, they don’t have the power and few have the will to make progress.

Human Trafficking, Organ Trafficking and Slavery

Egypt’s Bedouin are closely related to the tribes in the Israeli Negev. The international border between the two territories is only 100 years old, and for much of that time Israel had control of both areas and no fence separated the areas. Bedouin still wander the desert, crossing borders with ease and without hesitation. Consequently, crime syndicates on the Egyptian side would be well-connected on the Israeli side.

Sudanese and Eritrean refugees are caught in the middle. Escaping the conflict zones in their countries, they head for the closest First World state they can – Israel. Traveling north through Egypt, they hire Bedouin trackers to get them across the desert to an unguarded gap in the Israeli border. Presumably they can restart new lives or head to Europe. But many of them are turned on and kidnapped by their handlers. Taking $3,000 for the service of guiding them through the desert, their relatives are called with demands of $30,000 or even $40,000 for their release. Contacts report the captives are tortured with electric cables, even as they are put on the phone to plead for their families’ help. With Egyptian police failing miserably to enforce order, families are left to sell all their possessions with slim hopes anyway. The European Union has a resolution on the table demanding Egypt do more, acknowledging the situation.

On the Israeli side of the border, the situation is being overlooked. Ministers are actually more concerned with deporting refugees already in Israel than they are about the ones already lost on their way. Concerns, however exaggerated, range from thinking Islamic militants are sneaking into the country to parts of the country being over-run by refugees. No matter the motivation, it is a PR nightmare for the country that the focus is on gettign rid of the refugees rather than saving their brethren from an apparent common enemy.

South Sudan

Israel has built a relationship with South Sudan. The country only went independent last year and has seemed to be the natural ally, being the enemy of Arab northern Sudan. It’s that Sudan, the north, which has fueled much of the conflict that drove refugees to Israel in the first place. Jerusalem has been concerned with arranging deportation with the South Sudanese government, but has invested little into fighting a Bedouin threat that South Sudan also wants stamped out.

Israel will need to shift its focus if it wants to get ahead of the game in the Sinai Peninsula. Bringing attention to the human component of Bedouin crime rings in the Sinai will go a long way in pressuring Egypt to be more aggressive in policing what is supposedly its own territory.

Without more aggressive measures from Cairo, Israel’s different branches of military will have to do the work themselves. That should not mean a full scale invasion, but it would imply a lot more covert activity, making alliances with certain tribes and not others, as well as working with South Sudanese to penetrate and neutralize groups that are smuggling as much armor as they are human cargo.

April 19, 2012

Egypt’s Christians: An Intro

by Gedalyah Reback

As of 2012, the Middle East’s Christian communities are in wide retreat. From a population of about 1 million in Iraq before the US-British invasion, half have fled the country at some point since the war started and a great many have not yet returned. In Lebanon, the formerly majority Christian community has mostly emigrated. There are about 4 million Lebanese in Lebanon, maybe a third of whom are Christians. 15 million Lebanese live abroad, and virtually all of them are Christians. Other communities are in flight, including Palestinian Christians, whose numbers around traditionally Christian Bethlehem have extremely thinned out. One reason is Islamic militancy, another ethnic relations breaking down, and then the breakdown of political and economic stability. In Egypt, some have fled since 2011’s revolution, but most have not and probably never will. Here’s why.

Egypt’s Christians constitute the biggest Church in the Middle East. In a country of 70 to 80 million people, they take up about 10 million. Only the richest have fled to communities abroad in more affluent places like Brooklyn or Queens, New York. In general. Egyptian Christians have a much stronger connection to Egypt than the other communities. Even if they didn’t, they would have fewer places to run. None of the countries around Egypt have both the space and tolerance necessary to host a massive amount of Christian refugees.

But the situation in Egypt is not one of civil war. The large Christian community makes an impression on the political environment. Think of how the staunchly Shi’ite Hezbollah advocates (publicly) for tolerance of the extreme diversity in Lebanon (big communities of Christians, Sunni Muslims & Druze). That is also true in Egypt, where the community’s numbers give it recognition from significant Muslim leaders – political and religious.

Additionally, the community is highly organized on the religious level. It has one of the oldest churches in Christendom. The name “Copt” comes from another version of the Greek name for the country & is directly related to the English word “Egypt.” The Church also has direct influence over national churches in Israel, Ethiopia & across Africa.

But the religious strength of the community dwarfs its political activism. It’s a problem that’s become acute since the Egyptian Revolution, as Islamist politicians have risen rapidly to the front of the electoral pack. Over 70% of Egypt’s new parliament comes from members of the Muslim Brotherhood and more fundamentalist or Salafi groups of Muslims. Calls for more influence by Islam in a new constitution are adding immeasurable pressure on the Coptic community.

Since 2011, attacks against members of the community have grown. Clan rivalries in the Egyptian countryside have become full religious clashes on the streets of Cairo. In October, a spate of Church arsons sparked riots in Cairo. Twenty four people were killed fighting Muslims and eventually Egyptian soldiers trying to keep order:

Arsons have mostly been outside the capital. Other spates between Christians and Muslims include marriage issues. While intermarriage is a massive problem for any minority, particular incidents in 2010 purportedly had a Coptic priests’ wives leave them to convert to Islam. Those set off back and forth barbs between communities, as to whether the Muslim view is right or the Christians’ view that she was coerced into converting. The truth is rather elusive. Incidents like this have become absurdly common and underscore the tensions happening in the cities between the two communities.

There have been a number of holiday attacks on Christians in the last few years. In 2009, Muslim shooters killed Christians 4 people the day before Easter. In 2010 and 2011, there were attacks in January that killed about 20 combined, one of the attacks being a bombing of an Alexandria church on New Year’s.

Many Copts are resistant to the idea of getting more involved in politics, but many have already started go that way. The numbers of active Christians are low, but pressures on the community have stirred debate about needing to be more aggressive or at least pro-active. Copts have the largest Church in the Middle East and might be able to play a leading role for other Mideast Christians at a time of massive flight from their home countries. Only the Church leadership has played a significant political role in years past, and the choice of a new Coptic Pope later in 2012 (writing before the selection process begins) might lead to more or less involvement by Copts in the country’s politics.

April 14, 2012

Israel toward Egypt’s Christians

by Gedalyah Reback

For Easter 2012, Egypt’s Coptic Christians had an opportunity they formally hadn’t had in decades – visit Jerusalem. Pope Shenouda III (who?), the leader of the Coptic Church (20 million+ members worldwide), passed away last month. In addition to his being a significant religious figure, the late Pope also banned Copts from making any pilgrimage to Jerusalem as so long as it was considered occupied. But his recent death has marked an unexpected shift for Egypt’s Christians and maybe Israel’s diplomatic opportunities around the Nile.
Copts have unprecedented pressures in Egypt: a revolution’s new wave of violence against Christians; Islamists’ election victory; and now, their spiritual and de facto political leader’s demise. At the helm since 1971, it is a tremendous power vacuum. Simultaneously, Israel’s link to Egypt is fraying and the country has no social traction with the Egyptian on the street. So, the Copts of Egypt should be a vital concern for Israeli diplomacy, and electing a newer Pope should certainly have some bearing on where either side goes in respect to each other.
The idea of leveraging minorities in neighboring countries is often a fantasy of Israeli commentators or enthusiastic politicos who can’t resist thinking of ways to make Israel’s security more solid. But it’s hardly unprecedented. Innumerable resources were poured into Iraqi Kurdistan pre-Yom Kippur War to pressure the Baath Party, and Israel was quick to align with the Catholics of Lebanon in 1982. Extending these policies to Egypt would be seeing an Egyptian Christian minority have controlling votes in a new parliament and blunting the political blades of Islamists in government. But it’s tough to tell if Egyptian Christians really would hold any measurable or favorable sway on their country’s foreign policy if they were to become more politically organized. But this latter event is a prerequisite to any significant amelioration of the relationship between Egypt and Israel.

Christians’ Politics

A new Pope already has more pressing concerns, like keeping open the opportunities the revolution has given and defending the community against ethnic and religious attacks. Israel has plenty to talk about with a new Church leader: priority among them would be the dispute over Coptic Church property in and around Jerusalem. Even if Israel does recognize, negotiate with and reach a deal over disputed spots in the holy city, that doesn’t translate into good will between Israelis and Copts on a general level. And even with a maximum outburst of positive emotions, Copts’ physical security (that is, their own preservation) is the overwhelming priority.

But taking the diplomatic path with a reinvigorated Church could bear unexpected fruit. At the onset of Hosni Mubarak’s power, the Coptic Church has been relatively independent. All it and the late Pope Shenouda III had to do was support Mubarak or stay out of his way. The side-effect was an uninvolved Coptic community, grossly unprepared for the better organized and experienced Muslim Brotherhood to win post-revolution seats in the parliament in December. Standard along with that, Shenouda III always toed the line on the social climate regarding Israel – before Mubarak, he vocally opposed Sadat’s normalization with the Jewish State. It doesn’t stop there.

Isolation is a tempting strategy in the Middle East, but what comes with it is letting enemies encroach on what minimal boundaries you have. An aggressive minority would have a better chance of defending its interests, and Copts should be initiating their own political parties, matching Islamist political enthusiasm and distinguishing their views from the Muslim Brotherhood. The community gains a sense of direction beyond politics with a well-defined platform. Fearing a similar result in the next elections, some vibrant counterbalance to Islamist politics isn’t against the interests of the Egyptian army.

Israel

Relations with Israel are a political issue, not unlike how Americans debated ties to Napoleonic France. Coptic authorities also dispute property in the Old City that Israeli police handed to a different Church in the early 1970s. These issues are probably interrelated. Resolving one would unbind the other. While Israelis consider gestures for the next Pope, he’ll in turn have a chance to solidify a political stance and philosophy being engaged with Israel.

Shenouda III was not John Paul II. But therein might lay a solution to the Church’s problems. In a broader scope, it works in defining the Coptic Papacy as a socio-political pillar in Egypt and the Arab World. tandem with promoting ethnic and religious harmony across the Middle East. Being an outspoken advocate for the fortune of Arab Christians will work well in tandem with promoting other causes for coexistence in the Middle East.

But ultimately, Copts will weigh the benefit versus the cost of being more open to Israel.  In today’s climate, they might be inviting more pressure from Muslim Egyptians.

Israel’s options for facilitating the reputation of such a man are limited, but probably more from a lack of imagination than ability. It would be in their interest to open a new chapter with the Church beyond traditional political issues and foment an alliance. Israel should facilitate a leader that can stabilize a shaky fault, and tremors in the Coptic community imply an opportunity to do just that. Anything Israel can do overtly and covertly to facilitate those mechanisms and developments ought to be a priority. It can change the calculus in Egypt and balance the equation across the Sinai.

February 13, 2011

Exodus versus Revolution, Exodus as Revolution

by Gedalyah Reback

Reporters, analysts and even some progressive Rabbis have made literary-styled allusions to the Pharoahs of Egypt and the Hebrews’ Exodus in light of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I’ve personally found the comparisons either to be token or hollow. It is not necessarily because of the invokation of religious heritage on the revolutionary tidal wave hitting the Arab World. However, there is an importance distinction between the two events worth describing here. By defining that contrast, we can understand what comparisons are right to make.

THIS REVOLUTION BELONGS TO EGYPTIANS. The Exodus does not. From a national or an ethnic perspective, the Hebrews were able to leave the dominion of a foreign power. Even from a religious perspective, which arguably can be said to be in the merit of Muslim Egyptians, the demands Moses made of Pharoah were explicitly for the freedom of worship for the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. That is to say, the “Revolution” of the Hebrews projected a freedom of worship for the Hebrews through which Moses never directly stated to Pharoah the Hebrews would permanently abandon their enslavement in Egypt. Moses, Aaron and anyone else privy to the statements of God as written in scripture, knew that the statements to Pharoah were merely a front and that the liberation the Hebrews would experience was a freedom to worship in their own country.

While the implications of the above paragraph allude to greater issues of freedom of worship and even the freedom to be obligated to that worship, they constitute a completely different topic. For Egyptians, the oppression they face may only be akin to the economic depravity of the authoritarian Mubarak government. However, Egypt is their country, while Egypt was not the possession ofthe Hebrews. Economically, Egyptians (as well as Tunisians and other Arab peoples) live under the remnants of Arab nationalist socialism. Socialist policies, in this case as defined by Egypt’s 40-year-old constitution and reaffirmed by the country’s Supreme Constitutional Council (supreme court) on several occasions, limits and deprives economic rights. In this respect, with the constant adherence to arbitrary policies about business licenses, Arabs could be “enslaved” to their governments.

An Al-Jazeera-published editorial by Tikkun’s Michael Lerner makes the comparison. He expressed a Jewish identification plugged into Jewish experience with slavery in Egypt. But I have to say those words were not meant for the Jewish public, but the Arab public. They were not the wrong thing to say, but they were words of diplomacy and not words of ideology and assuredly not theology. Our Jewish theology takes pains to sever the connection with Egypt, despite the fact Jewish communities have periodically redeveloped there: the alternative temple in Alexandria, the centering of Rabbinical greats such as Maimonides or the Radvaz, and the extant community that fled in the 1940s. Maimonides himself identified himself as a sinner for “going back there” to Egypt, in contravention of the Biblical directive.

BUT THERE ARE diplomatic words worth reaffirming among ourselves. The words of the aforementioned editorial were window dressing, a facade and surface structure. The proverbial deep structure gives us Biblical versus to respect Egyptians (after a gap of several generations removed from the Exodus) precisely for their initial kindness to allow or ancestors to dwell in Egypt to escape regional famine (decades before being enslaved). Egyptians are not relegated to the category of “those whose welfare you shall not pursue:” the Moabites and Ammonites. They are permitted, in a liberal reading even invited, to join the “congregation” of God conceived in the Sinai Desert and implanted in our own country in Israel.

EGYPT’S REVOLUTION IS SIGNIFICANT FOR THEM. The significance to us of their revolution is very different; it is strategic, implicative and political. Their liberation is constituted by economic, democratic and expressive freedoms. It contrasts with our Exodus in that our freedom was religious, the right to own property and dwell freely on our own land. The socialism they will presumably roll back envests all financial power in the state and will consequently disseminate to individuals in Egypt. For us, as the Biblical verses state, the freedom to reclaim our own landed property was given to us as a matter of law forever, turning over from its renters to the original owners on a 50-year-cycle. Our freedoms were dictated by God and provided in the context of his religious worship. Egypt will have to decide how much of a role God will play as they redraw their consitution and reapply the mixed interests of liberal democrats and Islamists.

If we are going to identify with Egyptians in their revolution, it is yet to be defined beyond a possible Biblical permit to seek their welfare. We could come to define a list of mutual interests. They might constitute democracy, the balance of religious obligation with personal freedom, and the balance of communal interests with the desires of an individual (another priority for Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Council).

MODERN ISRAEL AND MODERN EGYPT (and for that matter modern Iran) may be seen in a wider, even if schitzophrenic, attempt to implement democratic principles in religious governance and religious principles in democratic governance. Israel has obviously taken a very different approach than Iran, whereas Israelis only see civil religious rule and on a limited scale, while Iranians experience a harshly interpreted version of religious law applied across their legal spectrum.

Egyptians face choices in jetisoning Western priorities in law and following the direction of Iran. Or they could follow the Israeli arrangement that allows civil theocratic intervention. Or finally, they could conceive a newer advanced concept of Islamic or religious constitutionalism (which could have consequences for how Religious Zionists conceive the possibility of expanding religious influence on Israeli law).

BUT THESE ARE CONSEQUENCES OF THE MODERN AGE and do not at all come out ofphantom parallels between the Exodus on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. There are a lot of interests that come up for both countries from this intellectual exercise, though it should be obvious the ancient liberation of the Hebrews was something apart from the recent liberation of Egyptians. But the message to Arabs in Al-Jazeera was right to be sent, not for its content but for the fact it shows valuable support for their endeavors. Its statements about contemporary politics (and specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) cannot truly speak for all Jews, but it is much better than nothing. there is an opportunity here to create a true dialog between Israelis and Egyptians not present during the rule of Mubarak. May a free press flourish there that lets us communicate with the Egyptian street once impossible, and let our identification with Egypt become real and also mutual.

February 13, 2011

Exodus versus Revolution, Exodus as Revolution

by Gedalyah Reback

Reporters, analysts and even some progressive Rabbis have made literary-styled allusions to the Pharoahs of Egypt and the Hebrews’ Exodus in light of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I’ve personally found the comparisons either to be token or hollow. It is not necessarily because of the invokation of religious heritage on the revolutionary tidal wave hitting the Arab World. However, there is an importance distinction between the two events worth describing here. By defining that contrast, we can understand what comparisons are right to make.

THIS REVOLUTION BELONGS TO EGYPTIANS. The Exodus does not. From a national or an ethnic perspective, the Hebrews were able to leave the dominion of a foreign power. Even from a religious perspective, which arguably can be said to be in the merit of Muslim Egyptians, the demands Moses made of Pharoah were explicitly for the freedom of worship for the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. That is to say, the “Revolution” of the Hebrews projected a freedom of worship for the Hebrews through which Moses never directly stated to Pharoah the Hebrews would permanently abandon their enslavement in Egypt. Moses, Aaron and anyone else privy to the statements of God as written in scripture, knew that the statements to Pharoah were merely a front and that the liberation the Hebrews would experience was a freedom to worship in their own country.

While the implications of the above paragraph allude to greater issues of freedom of worship and even the freedom to be obligated to that worship, they constitute a completely different topic. For Egyptians, the oppression they face may only be akin to the economic depravity of the authoritarian Mubarak government. However, Egypt is their country, while Egypt was not the possession ofthe Hebrews. Economically, Egyptians (as well as Tunisians and other Arab peoples) live under the remnants of Arab nationalist socialism. Socialist policies, in this case as defined by Egypt’s 40-year-old constitution and reaffirmed by the country’s Supreme Constitutional Council (supreme court) on several occasions, limits and deprives economic rights. In this respect, with the constant adherence to arbitrary policies about business licenses, Arabs could be “enslaved” to their governments.

An Al-Jazeera-published editorial by Tikkun’s Michael Lerner makes the comparison. He expressed a Jewish identification plugged into Jewish experience with slavery in Egypt. But I have to say those words were not meant for the Jewish public, but the Arab public. They were not the wrong thing to say, but they were words of diplomacy and not words of ideology and assuredly not theology. Our Jewish theology takes pains to sever the connection with Egypt, despite the fact Jewish communities have periodically redeveloped there: the alternative temple in Alexandria, the centering of Rabbinical greats such as Maimonides or the Radvaz, and the extant community that fled in the 1940s. Maimonides himself identified himself as a sinner for “going back there” to Egypt, in contravention of the Biblical directive.

BUT THERE ARE diplomatic words worth reaffirming among ourselves. The words of the aforementioned editorial were window dressing, a facade and surface structure. The proverbial deep structure gives us Biblical versus to respect Egyptians (after a gap of several generations removed from the Exodus) precisely for their initial kindness to allow or ancestors to dwell in Egypt to escape regional famine (decades before being enslaved). Egyptians are not relegated to the category of “those whose welfare you shall not pursue:” the Moabites and Ammonites. They are permitted, in a liberal reading even invited, to join the “congregation” of God conceived in the Sinai Desert and implanted in our own country in Israel.

EGYPT’S REVOLUTION IS SIGNIFICANT FOR THEM. The significance to us of their revolution is very different; it is strategic, implicative and political. Their liberation is constituted by economic, democratic and expressive freedoms. It contrasts with our Exodus in that our freedom was religious, the right to own property and dwell freely on our own land. The socialism they will presumably roll back envests all financial power in the state and will consequently disseminate to individuals in Egypt. For us, as the Biblical verses state, the freedom to reclaim our own landed property was given to us as a matter of law forever, turning over from its renters to the original owners on a 50-year-cycle. Our freedoms were dictated by God and provided in the context of his religious worship. Egypt will have to decide how much of a role God will play as they redraw their consitution and reapply the mixed interests of liberal democrats and Islamists.

If we are going to identify with Egyptians in their revolution, it is yet to be defined beyond a possible Biblical permit to seek their welfare. We could come to define a list of mutual interests. They might constitute democracy, the balance of religious obligation with personal freedom, and the balance of communal interests with the desires of an individual (another priority for Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Council).

MODERN ISRAEL AND MODERN EGYPT (and for that matter modern Iran) may be seen in a wider, even if schitzophrenic, attempt to implement democratic principles in religious governance and religious principles in democratic governance. Israel has obviously taken a very different approach than Iran, whereas Israelis only see civil religious rule and on a limited scale, while Iranians experience a harshly interpreted version of religious law applied across their legal spectrum.

Egyptians face choices in jetisoning Western priorities in law and following the direction of Iran. Or they could follow the Israeli arrangement that allows civil theocratic intervention. Or finally, they could conceive a newer advanced concept of Islamic or religious constitutionalism (which could have consequences for how Religious Zionists conceive the possibility of expanding religious influence on Israeli law).

BUT THESE ARE CONSEQUENCES OF THE MODERN AGE and do not at all come out ofphantom parallels between the Exodus on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. There are a lot of interests that come up for both countries from this intellectual exercise, though it should be obvious the ancient liberation of the Hebrews was something apart from the recent liberation of Egyptians. But the message to Arabs in Al-Jazeera was right to be sent, not for its content but for the fact it shows valuable support for their endeavors. Its statements about contemporary politics (and specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) cannot truly speak for all Jews, but it is much better than nothing. there is an opportunity here to create a true dialog between Israelis and Egyptians not present during the rule of Mubarak. May a free press flourish there that lets us communicate with the Egyptian street once impossible, and let our identification with Egypt become real and also mutual.

February 11, 2011

Israel’s Best Policy Option: Democracy in Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh the week of the uprising, and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. The united States, after a stumbling start, has positioned itself as the biggest supporter of the demonstrators in the world. The administration does want to be associated with Mubarak as Jimmy Carter was associated with the Shah. Israel has diverted sharply from this position, and been much more extreme its flip-flopping. Israel’s anxiety about the Islamic Brotherhood is guiding its policy, a position that hinged its practicality on the realistic possibility Mubarak would hold on to power.

The Israeli approach, at this point, is far more precarious than that of the Obama Administration. Buffered initially by calls from other Middle Eastern powers like Saudi Arabic to urge a cautious transition in Egypt, the direction of Saudi Arabia’s response to the American stance reduces Israel’s options. Saudi Arabia is now opting for a diplomatic opening with Iran, showing a glaring divide between the US and Saudi Arabia. Any flaring hope Saudi Arabia and Israel would be on the same page has, again, been dowsed.

At this point, the Netanyahu government has to do damage control for its reckless statements early in the process. Initially smart enough to order ministers to keep quiet, it was Bibi himself that dropped the verbiage that angered Egyptians and made Israel out to be a supporter of authoritarianism. Without a sharp and unequivocal turn in Israeli foreign policy, it could find itself isolated from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (even if all three countries turn out to be rivals).

As the US aims to move in the opposite direction of its 1979 reaction to Iran’s revolution, so too should Israel consider a counter-intuitive approach. As Ayatollah Khomeini disembarked in Iran after a long exile in Iraq and France, the former president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was sending congratulatory messages to the revolutionary leader. He followed up his diplomacy consistently, and offered his congratulations again when a referendum passed the new constitution of the Islamic Republic.

This approach seemed to have been beyond awkward. Syria was then ruled, as it is today, by the Baath party. The Baath is a secular, Arab nationalist party influenced by the socialist doctrines propagated by the Soviet Union. It had the same ideological position as the Iraqi Baath party of Saddam Hussein. In 1980, Hussein invaded Iran, fearing a stabilized religious regime would encourage Iraq’s own Shiite population to revolt (in response to Iraq’s invasion, it made that a cornerstone of Iranian strategy when Iran invaded Iraq in 1982).

However, the Syrian approach was motivated more by its regional isolation and strategic pessimism than by its ideological positions. As of 1979, Syria was for various reasons isolated in the Arab world. Egypt under Anwar Sadat was concluding a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran were consolidating a strategic alliance supported by the United States. Iraq had cut off its oil pipeline to Syria.

Israel circumstantially faces a similar sort of isolation. For whatever reasons this may be happening, its isolation from Turkey, the still dormant relationship with Iran and the weak relationship with the Egyptian people as of now signal an even heavier dependence on the United States than ever before. Even more acute, the frozen relationship with the Palestinians and lack of exit strategy from its occupying position in the West Bank leave the country needing a new outlook on its surroundings, policies and outreach to its neighbors.

It will take more than a cosmetic change to lift the country’s position in the region permanently. Israel can secure its treaty with Egypt and more by supporting the revolution to the utmost. Concerning Israel’s relationship with the United States, it makes the need more acute. Supporting civil rights will go much further for Israeli security than aligning with the tyrannical forces of Hosni Mubarak or his Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egypt has no reason to rebuff reinforcing its ties to Israel, and that’s a line that ought to accompany a vocal support from Jerusalem for a democratic Egypt. Israel has the ability to protect a new Egyptian government from Saudi and Iranian intelligence. It can address the country’s burgeoning water crisis by offering desalinization technology in abundance. Israel also has rising ties with African states along the Nile, positioning itself as a mediator between those countries and Egypt.

There are other opportunities as well. From the side of how Egypt’s policies might change, Israel should see this as a chance to foster an array of parties, including long precluded minorities, that would diversify Egypt’s political outlook. The Muslim Brotherhood hardly has a monopoly on Egyptian political philosophy. In fact, Coptic Egyptians may provide an avenue to rekindle relationships between Israel and the Middle East’s embattled Christian populations in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Most importantly, near and long term, a successful Egyptian revolution will increase pressure on Iran. The demonstrations in 2009 are still fresh in the minds of young Iranians, who are watching with envy the fall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. As I write this, Iranian opposition figures are very publicly trying to start a new round of demonstrations in Iran. A democratic flowering there would alleviate the strategic adversity Israelis face in the Middle East, no matter what government would seem to take power in Tehran.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution.

Israel can enable the ideological option in a way Syria could not with 1979 Iran. Considering that ideologically-guided policy would be defined by supporting democracy, it avoids the arbitrariness of dictators. The fears of democracy in Israel are more attributable to near-term developments, not long-term. For whatever difficulties Israel might see with the Palestinians, denying Arab aspirations for civil rights is neither pragmatic nor moral. A different approach, even just to stir up debate in the Middle East about relations with Israel, is beneficial to the Jewish state.

February 8, 2011

Realingment in the Middle East

by Gedalyah Reback

Speaking from a perspective just before Shabbat here, with a week’s worth of headlines rattling around my brain, my instincts tell me this country, Israel, will simply need to continue punching above its own weight in the Middle East.


Along the Israeli-Egyptian Border.

No matter who takes over Egypt, things promise to get more difficult. But that can be limited. Everything gets better before it gets worse, but it does not have to stay that way. The truth is, Egyptians under a democratic regime would loathe the idea of going to war and would oppose an Islamic Brotherhood attempt to send the country into a collision course with Israel. Additionally, the party has to recover credibility it lost to years of being co-opted by the Mubarak regime.

Even so, Israel will have to prepare for the worst case scenario – the Muslim Brotherhood wielding absolute power, repealing the treaty between the two countries and arming Hamas. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only player in Cairo, and will have to deal with an emergent movement of opposition parties over the next few months. Iran’s proclamations Egypt is heading down the path of Islamic revolution is more rhetorical than actual. Besides, whatever gains made by the Muslim Brotherhood would be more than offset by new protests in Tehran itself, which seem to be inevitable.

Over the next few months, the Israeli government is going to have to redesign its foreign policy approach. Firstly, it should praise the revolution in Egypt, even if this causes fallout with Mubarak. In the same way Mubarak knows Israel cannot do a thing about anti-Semitic propaganda in state media, Mubarak has no choice for his own sake but to continue a strong embargo on Hamas and block arms shipments.

Over the next few years, the democratization of the Middle East, be it slow or quick, should be the cornerstone of an ideological foreign policy. It has to be. Without such support, Israel will not be able to shake an additional association with authoritarian regimes throughout the region. Simultaneously, democracy enables Israel to more easily lobby different constituencies in various countries seeking support for, at the least, treaties, and at the most, alliances. Minority groups in North Africa like the Berbers or Coptic Christians, the Kurds, Maronites and Druze of the Fertile Crescent, provide stark and realistic possible allies.

Most importantly, Israel will have to engage Egypt intimately and assertively. Congratulating Egyptians publicly for whatever achievements they obtain is a priority. Offers to protect a moderate and democratic government from the Saudis or Iranians should be made. Offers to mediate between Egypt and lower African countries (with whom Israel is growing closer to) give plenty of reason to maintain a balanced relationship.

A free media in Egypt may be the most important development. Even under Mubarak, as mentioned above, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda have been common. It was not so much out of undercutting the Israelis that such things were printed in Egyptian papers, but to feebly distract Egyptians from the slew of domestic issues they faced and displace any resentment they had toward the Mubarak regime.

Such simplistic thinking did not do justice to Egyptian wits, nor does this meager paragraph do justice to this topic. But Israel and Egypt are far from getting a definitive divorce. There is plenty of reason to think the relationship can actually be improved as so long as the Israeli government makes a persistent effort.


Tahrir Square on Friday, February 4, 2011 – “Day of Departure”

Any vocal support from Jerusalem now can go a long way in tripping up any Iranian designs to take advantage of the situation, poor more fuel on the fire and push the protest movement across the Iranian border.

January 31, 2011

Israel Should Pull A Surprise Out of Its Strategic Playbook

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.


Path of Israeli-built Fence along Egyptian Border to Prevent Breaches by Illegal Immigrants and Smugglers

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. Unfortunately, a neutral reaction on the part of the United States and a resistance on the part of the Israelis demonstrates that 1) the US would rather remove itself from the situation entirely and 2) the Israeli government sees a stronger hand of support for the allied regime is the best option for Israeli security. The Prime Minister’s comments alongside the German Chancellor demonstrate an inflexibility and paranoia lacking strategic forethought.


The Attitude Israelis Worry would Prevail in a New Egyptian Government

While the American approach is more timid, the Israeli approach being applied by Bibi is far more dangerous and far more likely to backfire. The approach Israel might take ought to come out of the playbook of Hafez al-Assad in 1979. Assad congratulated and embraced the revolutionaries, becoming the most important asset for Iran in its efforts to fend off Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.

This seems to be, at the least, a counter-intuitive suggestion. Perhaps it even sounds alarming. However, a democratic Egypt does not have to jeopardize Israeli security Israel’s government, nor change the order of the modern Middle East. Ironically, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt partially motivated Syria’s outreach to the new Iranian regime (the two events happened in the same year). It was Syria’s isolation in the Arab world in 1979 that convinced it seeking a new ally in an unlikely place would be to its benefit.

Here too, there are some similarities. Israel faces regional isolation, thanks to pressure regarding the peace process and the fallout with Turkey, while Egypt’s next government would have to worry about its longstanding relationship with the Western World. Unlike Syria, Israel can offer more than just itself with a refreshed relationship, it can also offer the relationships of the United States and European Union. The unlikely union between Syria’s Baath Party and Iran’s Shiite Islamist Revolution demonstrates alliances of mutual benefit can be created in the most unlikely situations.

Immediately after the collapse of the Pahlavi monarchy, Assad sent a telegram to Ayatollah Khomeini congratulating him on his success. As quoted in the book “Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East:”

“We proclaim our support for the new regime created by the revolution in Iran. This revolution is inspired by the great principles of Islam. The creation of this regime is in the Iranian people’s greatest interest, as well as that of the Arabs and Muslims.”

Months later after the ratification of the new Iranian constitution, Assad repeated the gesture. Iraq’s, Saudi Arabia’s, Jordan’s and Egypt’s reactions were only cautious, perhaps foreshadowing the devastating Iran-Iraq War.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. In turn, this could exert pressure on Hamas and Hizbullah while building further momentum for renewed democratic protests inside Iran.

An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution. In that, trading Mubarak for a revolution in Iran is far worth it. For anyone saying an Iranian revolution today would not matter as much if Egypt were to develop a hostile approach to Israel, they put way too much faith in the Muslim Brotherhood or xenophobia to take over Egypt. An array of other political forces, be they Christians or be they pragmatists, are just as likely to provide standing for a new government.

A new Egypt does not have to jeopardize Israeli security in regards to Hamas or exert undue pressure on the Israelis to negotiate an unfavorable deal with Fatah. To the contrary, Egypt could utilize Israeli offers to help defend a new government against Syrian, Saudi or especially Iranian intelligence efforts to destabilize it. Israel’s lobbying efforts could make a new government’s establishment of relations with the Western world much smoother. The Jewish state can compensate Egypt for any losses it accrues as Nile Basin African states begin to utilize more of the river’s water via its desalinization technology. It may also invite Egypt to resume its mediating role with Palestinians and perhaps entice a moderated Muslim Brotherhood to persuade Hamas to finally abandon its policies of terrorism.

Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. Most importantly, it could serve as the foundation for a new bloc of democratic countries in the region, especially if Iran teeters the way of representative and popular rule. Let the demonstrations in Egypt create an opportunity for Egyptians to openly debate the options of regarding its cold peace with Israel in a way that Mubarak never did. However unlikely these policies would produce positive results immediately, the next few years would likely bear fruit with their implementation.

January 26, 2011

Why Egypt is both the Same as, and Different from, 1979 Iran

by Gedalyah Reback

The Tunisian revolution will set the tone for the coming year. There are a number of tinderboxes in the Middle East that seem to be crackling as 2011 opens. Tunisia seems poised to provide the spark that could make 2011 the biggest year in the Middle East since 1979.

1979 was a phenomenal shift in the strategic outlook of the region. The first reason that comes to mind would be the Iranian Revolution, itself dominating the month of January that year and culminating on February 11th with the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile. But also that year Saddam Hussein consolidated his rule in Iraq and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. These events set the stage Iran’s reach into Lebanon, its alliance with Syria, the heating up of the Syrian-Iraqi cold war, and the Arab obsession with destroying the Shiite revolution in Iran. In addition, Saudi Arabia extended its influence in order to combat 1) Iran and 2) the Soviet Union. Militant Sunni doctrine would spread to mobilize Muslims against Shiite and Communist movements.

2011, though still nascent and yet to provide all the major changes that it would take to rival 1979, has seen the outbreak of protests against four authoritarian regimes, the ascent of Hizbullah to power in Lebanon and a sudden jolt to the ability of the Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Israel. Considering developments over the last two years, and obviously since September 11, 2001, the region will not look as it did this past December when we enter 2012.

Egypt is the major chess piece. Continuing protests, fueled by years of frustration and motivated by Tunisians’ success, signals at least the beginning of a necessary period of reforms to pacify fed up Egyptians, if not an outright and brutal confrontation with the regime.

The protests that brought down the Iranian government 32 years ago began in 1977. The pattern of protest was uniquely Shiite. Every forty days after a suppressed demonstration, mourning caravans would commemorate those killed in the protests according to Shiite tradition, which in turn became political demonstrations in and of themselves. This pattern resulted in steadily growing protests that culminated in the involvement of armed opposition, popular revolt and the exile of the Shah.

Egypt is not restricted to a steady pattern of protests like Iran. That history made the Iranian opposition strategy in 2009-10 easier to predict for Iranian security services, enabling a more congruent system of tactics to be implemented to cut off demonstrations in the winter last year. Egypt does not have a revolutionary history, and its security services are equally as resented as the Iranian SAVAK at the point of the Islamic Revolution.

Most importantly, the distinction in opoosition leadership is pronounced. The most popular and credulous would be Mohamed Elbaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who had announced his candidacy for president in next year’s Egyptian elections. His international standing is a stark contrast to the figure that was Ayatollah Khomeini. Additionally, Elbaradei’s goals are much more generic, while Khomeini carried with him a fully developed doctrine of religious rule, velayat e-faqih, upon his return from exile in February 1979.


Mohamed Elbaradei

For any arguing the Muslim Brotherhood would assuredly take the lead in an Egyptian revolution, perhaps on par with Khomeini’s religious leadership. There is no undercurrent of Islamic fundamentalism ready to take the helm in Egypt. The population is aware of the human rights violations of established dictatorship and the brutality of the Iranian revolutionaries. It would find itself hardpressed to welcome a religious party that might perptrate the same misbehavior as the current Iranian elite. While there may be sharp differences between Sunni and Shiite doctrine, they would make little difference for Egyptians looking for democratic government. It is important to know the Brotherhood is seen as corrupt and inept. Early in the week, its leadership announced its non-participation in the planned demonstrations, citing its being held on a national holiday for the country’s police.

The irony of such a situation is iconic for Egyptian cynics. As elsewhere in the Arab world, supposed democratic opposition is more often a tame form of political theater. But as is often the case near the end of flimsy regimes, the artificiality of their politics and placation to the regime becomes too obvious to take seriously. Egypt, whether it be now or it be in the next couple years, will more than likely be free of Hosni Mubarak by reform, by revolution or by his passing.

Iran’s revolution caught the entire world, particularly the Arab world, off guard. In a way, it showed Iran was at a stage in its political evolution to tolerate such dramatic changes whereas the Arab world was not. But the tremendous international opposition to that revolution made its leadership more consolidated and extreme, particularly in the face of a US and Arab-backed Iraqi effort to dislodge the new regime.

Egypt, if it shifts, would likely not provide the throne to an authoritarian figure, but it could seek to dominate Middle Eastern politics and offer itself as a serious contender for global leadership in an increasingly multipolar world. It would likely not undertake the aggressive tone of Iran’s objective to ‘spread its revolution’. It has an opportunity to challenge Turkey and modern Iran for the helm of the Middle East, with an advantage being an Arab state. Mohamed Elbaradei, the likely victor of these changes, would leverage that international standing and popularity to solidify permanent political reforms and seek a balanced relationship with, not set himself in opposition to, the United States.

The next few days are crucial for American influence in the Middle East, and there is an opportunity for the Obama Administration to demonstratively engage the general population of the Arab world as he promised to do in Cairo two years ago. The fallout between the US and Iran does not have to repeat itself with Egypt, especially given the groundwork has already been laid for engagement. It is in the best interests of the US not to support Hosni Mubarak, rather to actually compound the pressure on him. If the US opts for caution, Obama and his engagement doctrine would likely come to mean nothing and his personal credibility would be totally destroyed. If his policy of balance with the Muslim world is to mean anything, the last month’s pattern of Arab protests should demonstrate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot resolve all the region’s problems nor America’s tenuous position among Arabs on the street.

Revolutions can become extreme as happened with Iran, or they can be stable and world-changing, as with the US. Whether Egypt becomes a positive facet in the Middle East or an agitator, and whether Egypt’s minority Christians and multiple political outlooks are tolerated, may depend on its engagement with the outside world and the support other countries offer it. In this last point, it is what the world can do differently this time, not what Egyptians do differently from Iranians, that may distinguish an Egyptian Revolution from the Iranian one.

April 8, 2009

Upgrade the Relationship with Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Put It on an Incline

Despite whatever we are reading in relation to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel and Egypt have been working together like they never have before. Egypt has essentially sided with the Israelis in both of the country’s previous two wars, and has been indispensable in its anti-smuggling policies into Gaza. Considering the pressure Egypt is under, and its willingness to work with Israel in combating Hamas, the Israeli government needs to start implementing long-term policies that envision strong Israeli ties with the major countries in the Middle East.

Egypt is a priority. Israel should be laying out brought goals regarding trade, increased security, and massive economic development in the Sinai Peninsula that would benefit both countries’ rapidly increasing populations demand for space. That will become an increasing priority over the next 100 years, with sea levels rising due to global warming and the predicted flooding of the Nile Delta region.


Short Term: Diplomacy and Gaza

In the meantime, Egypt is under intense pressure, evident in its confrontation with Avigdor Lieberman, to downgrade relations with Israel. No matter if Israeli firepower was too much in Gaza, it is perceived that way by Egyptians and other Arabs. The Israeli government needs to give the Egyptians immediate breathing room.

Whether he likes it or not, Foreign Minister Lieberman should give into the demand he apologize to Hosni Mubarak for his comments last year. The Egyptians demand it, otherwise they’ll ignore him when dealing with Israeli diplomats. There is a cycle of stubbornness in Middle Eastern policy right now whose pressure ought to be alleviated – this would be a first step (and it doesn’t cost anything other than pride). I personally don’t like want Lieberman in the position he is in, but I’ll be practical and stick to recommending what to do with him rather than getting rid of him.

Mubarak calling Netanyahu proves Egypt has no interest in being cold to the Israeli government. Mubarak wants to solve these problems, and he’d prefer to do it with the Israelis.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will need to get the crossings into Gaza open at some point, and it should be done before a prisoner exchange. The public support for policy of arms in Gaza will dwindle after the crossings are opened, though that would probably take months. This will prevent any released Palestinian prisoners from being immediately sent back into battle.

But any openings would need to be coupled with a massive influx of Israeli intelligence to track down weapons that Hamas has stolen from UNRWA(unexploded ordinance used by the Israelis that’d been gathered by UNRWA and subsequently stolen by Hamas). Israel is still in a state of war with Gaza (this is not speculation, the Kadima-controlled Israeli Cabinet said as much right after Hamas’ coup in Summer 2007)

No matter what order the Israeli government sees as the most beneficial, the priority should be to help out Egypt diplomatically, and give countries (like Jordan) incentive to also warm back up any aspects of foreign relations between Israel that might have cooled over the last few months.


Long Term: Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Religious Israelis

Hosni Mubarak will not be around forever, like mentioned in several recent articles published on the 30th anniversary of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. Perhaps his son or a similar politician to him will be his replacement, but inevitably the Islamic Brotherhood or other right-wing Egyptian parties will wiggle some power from the regime. If the layout for a post-Mubarak relationship is not presented, the cold peace with Egypt could deteriorate into something negligible.

Israeli policy needs to accommodate the reality of Islamist regimes in its periphery. Intelligence experts, diplomats and public relations officials must be more familiar with Islamic legal principals in order to undermine so-called religious arguments by Islamist politicians and half-rate Islamic scholars. Given the global crisis facing Islam and its legal system, the Israeli government must be as well-connected with and knowledgeable about Islamic Law as it is about Jewish Law in order to solicit proper contacts in the Muslim World (not just Egypt).

The fatwas issues by Palestinian clerics, declaring it a crime punishable by death to sell land to Jews, are the foundations for undermining Jewish rights to trade throughout the Middle East. This, if allowed to continue, will block any feasible peace from forming between Israelis and Arabs, preventing business contacts and the sale of property to Jews in all contexts – private or corporate. Without economic peace, there will be no peace. This does bring up how well the land laws are being applied in Jerusalem, but another Jewish perspective ought to be thrown into the mix.

The Jewish right to own property, both in Jewish law and as should be recognized in international treaties, cannot be held hostage if Israel’s economy will inevitably expand to benefit both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Jewish Israelis who are devoted to the idea of settling Israel and reject the violent ideas of some nationalists, will be totally undermined if their argument for peaceable property acquisition is discredited by those further to the right.

Longer Term: Economic

I mention these things because Israel will have an intense interest in helping Egypt develop the Sinai peninsula. Egypt’s population is nearing 80 million, well-beyond the point of residential comfort for Egyptians in the Nile Delta. Egypt will be looking to spread its population out along its underpopulated Sinai and Red Sea coastlines. It has the potential for major Israeli involvement in development projects, especially since any new development might be in conjunction with Israeli development in the Negev.

But there is an even more urgent need for Egypt, considering global warming projections over the next century predict much of the Nile Delta will be flooded by the Mediterranean. Israel does not have the problems Egypt does, so it can afford to prioritizing helping its neighbor adjust to the rising tides. Israel can take advantage of the opportunity to build long awaited canals that will channel more water into Israel. There is room in the Negev and Sinai deserts to pool water, a potential joint project that would involve the growing Israeli Water Industry.

When Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat made their peace agreement in 1979, Begin agreed to give over the entire Sinai Peninsula, and even accepted an $80 Million buy-out from the Egyptian government for the Jewish settlement of Yamit. Something similar happened with the Ofira settlement right outside Sharm el-Sheikh.

At the last minute the day of Yamit’s evacuation in 1982, PM Begin decided to level the settlement instead, thinking former Jewish settlers would travel back to Egypt and attack the new Egyptian residents (much like former Palestinian residents crossed the Jordan River and attacked Jewish refugees who had been settled in their old neighborhoods after the Israeli War of Independence. (The settlement’s ruins are still visible on a full zoom on Google Maps.)

The wake of the evacuation left a scar on Israeli-Egyptian relations at their birth. Egypt envisioned what the Israelis originally set out to do at Yamit: build a bustling port city. Instead, Egypt would have to rebuild the town if it wanted to achieve that, and the investment has apparently not been worth the time of planning and reconstruction.

Conclusion: I’m Casting Broad Strokes
A general and mutual respect for legal systems will inevitably give Islamic governments a reason to accommodate economic ventures with Israel who are willing to spend millions to legitimately buy property from Palestinians (a strategy which would undermine the extreme right-wing in the Jewish camp).

%d bloggers like this: