Why lose Egypt? [Archives:2008/1135/Opinion]

March 6 2008

By: Nazir Majali
For several months now, the media has been reporting that Israel is angry at Egypt's behaviour. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is responsible for strengthening Israel's ties with the rest of the world, launched this trend in December. The rightist opposition continued it, from MK Yuval Steinitz to former minister Avigdor Lieberman.

After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that red lines had been crossed and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit threatened that Egypt could have a negative influence on Israel's interests, Israeli officials ceased speaking on the record, but continued to attack Egypt anonymously, via unnamed “government officials.”

The obvious question is, What would Israel gain by destroying its relationship with Egypt, of all countries, and now, of all times, when Egypt is mediating the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit? Has Israel stopped seeing the largest Arab state as a partner)one that could affect change in the Middle East and lead it toward comprehensive peace and an historic reconciliation? Does Israel intend from now on to rely on the emirate of Qatar rather than Egypt?

The grievance against Egypt, as formulated by Livni, is that its efforts to stop arms smuggling across its border with Gaza are “terrible, problematic and impair the ability to advance the peace process.” Others have reiterated the old cliche about a “cold peace.”

Some Jewish “experts” rely on numerous studies to “prove” that Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel not out of an ideological commitment to peace, but solely out of self-interest. Therefore, the argument goes, Egypt should be considered suspect, and woe to the prime minister who does not toe the line of this paradigm.

The truth so far from these conclusions is that they raise questions, and even suspicions, as to whether someone has an interest in burning the bridge that Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin built between their countries.

Egypt indeed conducts its policies in accordance with its own interests as an independent state, and Israel cannot dictate its behaviour. The Israeli government may well be opposed to these policies, and it is free to criticise them. But to give them a grade of “terrible” and accuse Egypt of hindering the peace process, even when it knows full well that this will elicit a less than positive response)that is astounding.

Moreover, these criticisms are wrong. The Egyptians, even with their inadequate forces, have seized tons of weapons and explosives before they were even transferred into Sinai. They have discovered and blown up tunnels between Egyptian Rafah and Palestinian Rafah, and arrested dozens of people in Sinai who were suspected of hostile activity against Israel.

Egypt itself has been a victim of many terrorist attacks that have exacted a heavy toll. It therefore has a supreme interest in fighting terror. The fact that it is a large Arab country, inhabited by millions of people who see Israel as an occupier that oppresses the Palestinian people (which is also how many Israelis and Western leaders see it), compels Egypt to act cautiously and wisely in order not to undermine the main battle, against terrorism.

Even if this is inconvenient for Israel, it is wrong to hurl accusations at Egypt.

It is always vital to remember the essential point, which is that since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979, Israel's situation has changed for the better. Peace brought an end to the total war Israel had previously waged against the entire Arab world. Since the treaty was signed, and to a large extent because of it, some 80 additional countries worldwide have recognised Israel. It has signed a peace treaty with Jordan, and the way has been paved for peace with the Palestinians.

This “cold peace” has survived many difficult events, such as Sadat's assassination, the first and second Lebanon wars, and the first and second Intifadas. Does it really pay for Israel to sacrifice this peace on the altar for a war of words?

Nazir Majali is an Israeli affairs analyst for Arab television stations and the newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org