Hosni Mubarak: Mr. Cold Peace - analysis

Mubarak wanted peace to relieve Egypt of a massive military burden in having to be ready for war with Israel. But he also wanted to regain the stature it lost by signing the treaty with Israel.

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak, the long-time Egyptian leader who ruled his country like a modern-day pharaoh for three decades before his overthrow in 2011, was no lover of Zion.
How do we know that? Well, for one, because the former president who died on Tuesday visited Israel only once during his 30-year reign, and that for only three hours to attend the funeral in 1995 of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
And, secondly, an authoritarian leader, he allowed a virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic press to flourish in his country, partly as a way of deflecting attention from his own misrule.
But Mubarak was a lover of Egypt, and – as such – understood the importance and utility to Egypt of the peace treaty that his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed with Israel in 1979.
So, when Sadat was assassinated in October 1981 and Mubarak took his place shortly thereafter, he made clear his intent to abide by the treaty.
And he did, fulfilling the security commitments under the accord to the letter. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he did not go beyond that, and did nothing to try to imbue the treaty with anything that would lead to normal relations between the two countries.
Mubarak wanted, and perpetuated, a cold peace. Think cold peace, think Hosni Mubarak.
He wanted peace, as Sadat did, to relieve Egypt of a massive military burden in having to be ready for war with Israel, and he wanted it to cement Egypt’s ties with the US.
But he also wanted to return Egypt to the bosom of the Arab world and regain the stature it lost by signing the treaty with Israel. And the way he did that was to stick to the framework of the treaty with Israel – honoring all the various security annexes regulating Egyptian forces in Sinai – but not pouring any other content into the agreement.
By the time Sadat was assassinated in 1981, the Arab League had expelled Egypt because of the Camp David Accords and moved its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. In addition, one Arab country after the other turned its back on Egypt, which until then was looked upon as the preeminent Arab power.
The way Mubarak chose to thread this particular needle –  preserve the treaty with Israel while winning Egypt’s way back into the good graces of the Arab world – was to denude it of any content outside of the military / security sphere. He convinced the other Arab states that while he could not annul the treaty, he would not fully normalize relations with Jerusalem.
Under Mubarak, the agreement was little more than a security and military alliance – one of the reasons why relations between the two countries were driven by the defense, not foreign, ministries.
 Mubarak never wanted to annul the peace treaty, and it survived some very hazardous bumps in the road, including the two Israeli wars in Lebanon, two Intifadas, numerous campaigns in Gaza, and a frozen diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
He wanted it both ways: he wanted the benefits of the treaty – including not having to be on a war footing with Israel and the economic assistance from the US that stemmed from the treaty – but without normalization with Israel.
As former ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon once put it, Mubarak’s idea regarding the peace treaty was to “keep the frame, but remove the picture – the bilateral relations – inside.” At least until some kind of agreement was reached between Israel and the Palestinians.
And in this capacity, Mubarak relished the role of the mediator, the person that the parties would come to for consultations and help in negotiations. He enjoyed hosting mini-summits at Sharm el–Sheikh, which provided him with stature in the Arab world and in the eyes of his own people. He generously hosted Israeli prime ministers in Sharm or his palace in Cairo, but would never deign to make such a trip to Jerusalem. That was beneath him, and something he said could only happen once there was peace with the Palestinians.
And while far from ideal, this arrangement was definitely something that Israel could live with. True, Israelis might not be able to feel welcome popping  over for a quick visit to Cairo, but the country also did not have to allocate tremendous resources – both in manpower and treasure – to the Egyptian front. A cold peace, from Israel’s point of view, is far better than a hot war.
And for Israel that will be Mubarak’s legacy: architect of the cold peace, but one which has taken root and led to a situation where the two countries – once enemies who fought four wars in 25 years – have now been at peace longer than they were ever at war.