Understanding Egypt’s policy
How can trust between people, so important to a future of peace and stability, exist in this hostile atmosphere of alienation?
Protesters burn Israeli flag in Cairo. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Unfortunately, Egypt’s actions over the past few days, as the armed conflict
between Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza escalates, do
not seem to support an optimistic view of Egypt’s role.
understandable that Egypt does not see eye to eye with Israel on the current
A fair observer has to acknowledge the consistent increase in
the number of Palestinian attacks from Gaza against Israel in the past
This escalation manifests mainly through the increase in rocket
fire towards Israeli towns, both in scale and in range, but also in
unprecedented attacks, at least in recent years, on Israeli military forces
operating on the Israeli side of the border. Just lately, a tunnel was dug under
the fence, and explosives detonated on the Israeli side. Then there was the
antitank missile fired at an Israeli military vehicle.
However, one can
acknowledge the real problem Israel is facing and still think that the targeted
killing by Israel of the head of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmad Ja’abari, was not
necessary to restore Israeli deterrence, but rather an ill-advised action
contributing to the deterioration of the situation.
The Gaza strip
borders on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where Egypt itself faces a terrorist threat
from local and foreign jihadist groups. The concern about a potential spillover
is reasonable and Egypt can rightfully see itself as a stakeholder in this
However, the real question is how two neighboring
states should handle their differences, after having peaceful relations for more
than three decades? One would hope by open and constructive communications at
the highest political level. This does not seem to be happening.
contrary: President Mohamed Morsi has called back his new ambassador in Israel,
asked for the UN Security Council to convene, spoken with the US president and
European leaders about the situation, sent his prime minister to Gaza and
addressed his own people in a Friday sermon. Everything but speaking directly to
the Israeli leadership. Morsi’s practice of not referring to Israel by its
self-determined and internationally recognized name continues, and now vague
threats are added.
Again, concern about the plight of the civilian
population in Gaza is understandable.
The problem is not an Egyptian
desire to send humanitarian aid to Gaza.
However, other Arab and
international actors (with the exception, lately, of the emir of Qatar) were
always careful not to allow their visits to confer legitimacy on the Hamas. The
Egyptian prime minister bluntly did the opposite, standing publicly next to
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader in Gaza, allowing an interpretation of the visit as
a “historic” manifestation of the “new Egypt” backing the Hamas.
hardly be consistent with the letter or spirit of the peace treaty between Egypt
and Israel. Hamas is an organization publicly committed to the destruction of
the State of Israel and actively pursuing this goal by deliberate attacks on
Israeli civilians, amounting to war crimes, as unequivocally admitted even by
the anti- Israeli Goldstone Report.
How can backing this regime align
with the peace treaty obligation Egypt undertook “ ...to refrain from
organizing, instigating, inciting, assisting or participating in acts or threats
of belligerency, hostility, subversion or violence against the other Party,
anywhere...” (article III of the treaty)? Striving to force Hamas to
implement a cease-fire is one thing. Encouraging this regime by standing by its
side is a very different thing. Furthermore, by doing this Egypt is undermining
the position of Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO
and the only legitimate Palestinian representative, committed to the two-state
Lastly, the Egyptian leadership does not try to speak to the
Israeli public. Why can’t this leadership clearly denounce attacks on Israeli
civilians and show even token empathy for their plight? One does not have to
agree with the Israeli government to do so. How can trust between people, so
important to a future of peace and stability, exist in this hostile atmosphere
of alienation? Indeed, it is hard to be an optimist in this region these days,
even without living in southern Israel.
The author is an IDF colonel
(res.) and an advocate. He is the former head of the IDF’s International Law