On Saturday, the Egyptian army issued a communiqué reassuring the people and the
international community of its intention to usher in a civilian government and
honor all international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel.
Although such a pronouncement provided some comfort, many Israeli officials and
ordinary citizens remain alarmed, perhaps for good reason, about the breathless
development of events and their mid- and long-term implications.
careful analysis strongly suggests, however, that the military remains central
to any future political development.
Gauging the support for the 1979
peace treaty, it would appear that the military will continue to steadfastly
safeguard it not only because the army feels obligated, but because peace will
continue to serve national strategic interests.
There are four major
pillars to this argument, and together they form the basis for maintaining and
even improving bilateral relations, which open up new opportunities for further
advancing the peace process.
TO BETTER appreciate the Egyptian military’s
commitment to the peace treaty, it should be recalled that it was Anwar Sadat
who forged peace in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The ending of the war
was rather unique as it was engineered by US secretary of state Henry Kissinger
to allow Egypt to emerge politically triumphant by preventing the Israelis from
crushing its Third Army. Kissinger argued that another defeat would only usher
in the next war, and that Egypt, as the leader of the Arab world, must feel
victorious and equal to come to the negotiating table.
military to remain in the Sinai at the conclusion of the hostilities was taken
by the Egyptians, as it was intended to, as a military victory which they
continue to celebrate. This same peace treaty was steadfastly observed and
further strengthened by Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak.
three important implications: the peace treaty has been forged, sustained and
somewhat institutionalized by military men. There is nothing to indicate the
current military leadership has any reason to downgrade, let alone abrogate it.
Neither country has violated the agreement and both militaries have cooperated
on a number of levels, including intelligence sharing.
countries have greatly benefited from the reduced military expenditure resulting
from the substantial reduction in the state of readiness against one another.
Finally, considering the enormous efforts it would take to get Egypt out of its
current political, social and economic doldrums, it would be at best foolish to
renew hostilities with a neighbor in possession of formidable conventional
military machine. In fact, if anything, the current high command looks favorably
at the peace treaty because it serves Egypt’s strategic regional
As the military listened to the public’s demands, it realized
that the focus of the young revolutionaries was on their own plight – social and
political freedom, economic opportunity, better health care and
The revolutionaries did not seek a scapegoat for their dismal
state; they did not blame Israel or the US for their country’s failures, and
instead pointed the finger at their own leaders – the corruption and the
stagnation from within.
Here again, unlike many other Arabs who blame
Israel, in particular, for all the ills that affect their society, the Egyptians
appear to appreciate that peace is positive.
Whereas Mubarak has failed
the people by stifling social, economic and political developments, he has
managed to ingrain the peace agreement in the national psyche. After all, the
peace was forged following a “military victory,” and not a defeat.
the Muslim Brotherhood vowed to keep the peace treaty should it assume power.
Indeed, no revolution can make social, political and economic progress by
becoming hostile to its neighbors. In fact, Egypt can only benefit from the
bilateral relations as it has in the past.
THE ARAB malaise is bred from
within, and to change, it must also come from the strength, tenacity and will of
the Egyptian people. It is in that sense that Egypt will again set an example to
be emulated by the rest of the Arab states.
Both Israel and the Egyptian
military share common concerns over Islamic extremism. They have cooperated in
the past and will continue to collaborate.
Although the Muslim
Brotherhood has professed to pursue political pluralism, both Israel and the
Egyptian military remain suspicious of its ultimate intentions. Its influence on
Hamas is significant, and neither Israel nor the Egyptian military sees Hamas as
a legitimate interlocutor as long as it continues to reject the existence of
It should be further noted that it was the Egyptian military,
just as much as the IDF, which kept tight control over the blockade of Gaza.
Moreover, both militaries are concerned over the rise of Islamic extremism,
which is not likely to dissipate following the Egyptian revolution. Egypt and
Israel have far greater common interests than differences and the Egyptian
military is keenly aware of the potential gains and losses. It would like to
maintain excellent relations with the US and continue to receive the more than
$1 billion in military assistance. It would be impossible to maintain should the
peace treaty be undermined.
Finally, what further cements future
bilateral relations is the threat of Iran.
Its growing influence in Iraq
and the recent developments in Lebanon only reinforce this concern. For Egypt in
particular, a nuclear Iran could overshadow its traditional leadership role in
the Arab world and might even compel it to pursue its own nuclear program.
Neither prospect is attractive.
Indeed, the last thing Egypt needs now is
to enter into a nuclear race with Iran or continuously be threatened by Iranian
surrogates. Israel, on the other hand, while enjoying its own nuclear
deterrence, wishes to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons not only out
of fear that it would neutralize its own weapons, but because it could prevent
other Arab states, especially in the Gulf, from making peace. Thus, both
countries have a very strong interest to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear
For Egypt and Israel, teaming together on this vitally
important issue is of a supreme importance to their national security. Egypt
looks at Israel as the bulwark that might delay, if not stop, Iran’s nuclear
adventure which adds another layer to their bilateral relationship.
revolution is a game changer in many ways and neither Egypt nor the Middle East
will be the same again. I believe that the Egyptian people will stay the course
of peace because the people’s revolution is about internal social, political and
economic developments; it is about being free, productive and proud citizens.
Maintaining the peace, under the guidance of the military, will help the young
revolutionaries focus on their holy mission and reach their destination with
dignity, while fostering peace and prosperity throughout the region.The
writer is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs
at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.