Nuclear cynicism

Egypt knows Teheran doesn't only imperil Israel.

April 28, 2010 23:55
3 minute read.
Nuclear cynicism

dimona reactor 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

There is more than a touch of schizophrenia in Egyptian policy toward Israel. Egyptian attitudes sometimes appear positive, but Egypt is also a hotbed of anti-Israel propaganda and spawns repeated initiatives which cannot but be regarded as inimical.

Egypt aspires to the role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be conferring with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week. Egypt is reportedly mobilizing Arab League support to wrest PA President Mahmoud Abbas out of his intransigence.

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Egyptian efforts to prevent massive gunrunning to Gaza’s Hamas dominion may not be sufficient, but they have been upped since Operation Cast Lead. The same goes for curtailing human trafficking and illegal migration from Africa via Sinai. While Egyptian policing of the border may be questionable, as in the arrest of an Israeli cyclist who strayed innocently across the unmarked line, cross-border cooperation can be effective; the Israeli was returned four days later.

On the debit side of the ledger is the outright Judeophobia so endemic in Egypt. Apart from the notorious Mein Kampf and “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” remaining high on Egyptian best-seller lists – and its government-controlled press featuring noxious libels and Der Sturmer-style caricatures – Egyptian headliners frequently heap invective upon Israel, and the current climate discourages even the most constructive contact between Israelis and Egyptians.

The inbuilt contradiction of Egyptian attitudes is exemplified by the recent incident in which Egypt’s foreign minister reportedly labeled Israel an enemy during a visit to Lebanon. He later clarified, saying that he meant to imply that Beirut views Israel as an enemy.

THIS DIPLOMATIC split personality is perhaps most evident in Egypt’s perennial campaign to deprive Israel of whatever nuclear powers some believe it possesses. This is a persistent Egyptian theme. Egypt’s latest gambit is to coerce Israel to sign the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The 189 NPT signatories will confer at UN headquarters next month, with Egypt helping to divert the focus of their agenda from Iran to Israel. Egypt is openly threatening to block all NPT Review Conference resolutions if Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal isn’t targeted. Egypt already scuttled the previous NPT conference in 2005.

The danger this time is that more and more states – bona fide democracies among them – are willing to play along with Egypt. The current US administration is plainly far more amenable than its predecessor to the idea of reviving yesteryear’s “ban-the-bomb” rhetoric of a nuke-free and menace-free world. Last fall, with much fanfare, President Barack Obama chaired the UN Security Council session which re-sparked the vision of nuclear disarmament.

Moreover, there is a pronounced predilection in the West to vent the frustration Iran foments by spotlighting Israel. Egypt cynically exploits such predispositions and has already secured many co-sponsors for its resolution.

On the face of it, Egypt can claim moral equivalence. But this is a counterfeit claim. Egypt and like-minded co-sponsors all know that Israel is as prudent a democracy as exists anywhere. If Israel actually has the bomb, then it has had it for the past 50 years, almost as long as the original “Atomic Club” members. In all that time, in line with Israel’s pledge not to be the first country to introduce the use of nuclear weaponry to the region, no wrongful use has been made.

Iran is the diametrical opposite of Israel – a regime professing extreme Islamist doomsday theology whose bywords are volatility and unpredictability. There’s no equivalence between a self-defending democracy and an expansionist tyranny.

Egypt’s ploy is to demand a nuclear-free Mideast predicated on the 1995 NPT Review Resolution to create a regional WMD-free zone. Yet it’s quite outrageous to ignore the variety of WMD modes and concentrate on the Mideast’s one beleaguered democracy. The implication is that democratic Israel can be pressured, while autocratic Iran will get away with flagrant obstructionism. The good guy will be disarmed, and the out-of-control aggressor will be armed to the teeth.

Is this what Egypt seeks to accomplish? Does it wish to weaken Israel? Does it intend to ignite more tension between Jerusalem and Washington? Whatever Egypt’s goals, this is no friendly move.

The irony is that Egypt knows full well that Teheran’s ayatollahs do not merely imperil Israel. Their fiery brand of Islam primarily targets the so-called Arab moderates, Egypt first and foremost. Egypt would do best to be a force for stability rather than friction.

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