It’s not often that you hear an Israeli general saying the country’s security situation is fine, that everything isn’t gloom and doom, and that the defense budget is adequate.
But, breaking from that military tradition, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Defense Ministry, contends that the country is in a stronger position than it has been in a long time. “This has been the most convenient year from a security point of view,” he says.
Suicide bombings are history, Palestinian terrorism has been defeated, Israeli deterrence is keeping Hamas rockets at bay, Syria’s army is pre-occupied with rebellion at home and Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons. The peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt are still in force and Israel continues to enjoy cooperation of the Egyptian military.
“Of course, we are enjoying the good services of Egypt. The Egyptians do have dramatic influence,” he said.
A former top intelligence officer and liaison with Egypt, Gilad didn’t take long, however, to sour that pleasant note when he warned that the ongoing political upheaval in Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood could spell trouble in the future.
“I'm not hiding from you that we are concerned,” Gilad told foreign journalists and diplomats at a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think-tank. “The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood keep declaring, 'We are committed to this peace.' I am not so sure.”
He said the Islamists regard Israel as “Waqf, holy land,” or property bequeathed by Muslims for religious purposes. He noted that it was the Egypt’s Brotherhood-dominated parliament that called for expelling Israel’s ambassador and reviewing bilateral ties after Israel launched a military strike on Gaza last month.
Last Friday, a member of parliament for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arms of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the movement would not put the peace treaty with Israel to a referendum vote. “We will not put the Camp David accords, or any other agreement Egypt has signed to a national referendum,” said Abd Al-Maujood Al-Dardiri.
But the Brotherhood is currently engaged in a public relations effort to convince the US and other Western powers that it can be relied on and it has reversed itself on positions in the past.
“All these developments, we will need to look at them very carefully. Because they can declare they are committed to peace but they can find excuses to undermine it,” Gilad said.
Israel regards the 33-year-old peace treaty with Egypt as a pillar of its national security. Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace with the Jewish state and Gilad said he couldn’t imagine peace deals with other Arab countries in the future without Egyptian support.
Nevertheless, lawlessness is growing in the Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Israel. Al-Qaida and Palestinian terrorists are using it as a launch pad for strikes against Israel and disgruntled Bedouin routinely attack the pipeline that delivers natural gas to Israel and Jordan. Egyptian forces have failed to keep order since Husni Mubarak was toppled over a year ago.
On Monday, terrorists blew up the pipeline supplying gas to Israel and Jordan near Al-Arish in the northern Sinai, the 14th time since the revolt that ousted Mubarak. Two days before, a pair of Grad rockets that hit the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat. Israel says they were fired from the Sinai, a charge the Egyptians have denied.
Israeli security sources have labeled Sinai a “terror Incubator,” a transit point for huge quantities of arms, rockets and contraband originating in Iran and Libya headed for Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In response to the growing anarchy there, Egypt, with coordination with Israel, has been dramatically boosting its military presence in the Sinai to restore control. At least seven Egyptian military battalions, comprising some 3,000 troops, together with 150 special forces police were expected to deploy gradually in the Sinai, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
These forces were in addition to 1,000 Egyptian security forces Israel agreed to allow the last year into what is officially a demilitarized zone under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
“Without Egypt, I cannot imagine stability on our southern front,” Gilad said. “They are the only ones who know how to convince all the crazy guys there, all the extremists, to be calm and quiet.
He added cryptically that anything except success by the Egyptian forces could lead to Israeli action. “There are some hidden laws of the game,” Gilad said.
The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt calls for limited force presence since even the slightest spark has the risk of damaging relations, particularly during this volatile time in Egypt.
Under the peace treaty, a “hot pursuit” clause allows forces of one country to pursue an armed threat across the border of the other. But last year, a diplomatic crisis erupted after the Israeli military mistakenly killed a number of Egyptian security forces following a cross-border ambush by at least a dozen gunmen that killed eight people and wounded over 40.
Setting aside Egypt's will to control Sinai, its ability to do so remains in doubt.