A 'Nervous' Peace (Extract)

22ehud (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
22ehud (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Relationships between Israel and Egypt are at a turning point: from a "cold peace," as the neighborly relations have been defined since 1979, to what might now be called a "nervous peace." The stability and constancy that characterized the "cold peace" - no surprises, no particularly jarring moves and no excess of warmth or cooperation - may soon be replaced with shockwaves and tremors that will damage the quality of the mutual trust and ability of the two countries to coordinate with each other. This is a change of strategic proportions. Hamas in Gaza - and its leaders in Damascus and their Syrian patrons - have observed Egypt's growing weakness in the Arab arena, the demise of the Mubarak regime and its descent into impotence and loss of initiative. Heavy exhaustion has taken grip of Cairo's foreign policy, now little more than a bureaucratic instrument. No one listens to Egypt - it has no television stations that people care to watch nor any compelling newspapers. In the Arab League, Egypt has lost its "elder sister" status and been relegated to "maiden aunt." For example, Egypt does not have the power - even with Saudi Arabia at its side - to help find a solution to the crisis in Lebanon and when League General Secretary Amru Mussa - the last Nasserite of Egyptian diplomacy - traveled to Beirut and Damascus, the Syrians and the Hizballah mocked him publicly by declaring that he doesn't have a sufficient understanding of the Arabic language - an unparalled crude insult to an Arab nationalist of Mussa's prestige. Egypt finds itself in a dialogue with Iran, and Mubarak cannot even dodge a telephone call from Mahmud Ahmedinejad. Egyptian impotence and inability to deal with the crisis in nearby Darfur is obvious, and as for the wider circles of the Arab arena - Iraq, North Africa, the Persian Gulf - Egypt hasn't had a say for a long time. Now it's the Palestinians' turn. Hamas is doing everything that Yasser Arafat - who grew up in Cairo and spoke the Egyptian dialect to his last day - would not have dared do. Quite simply, Khaled Mashaal and his men in Gaza are pushing the Egyptians around. They completed the takeover of the Gaza Strip right under the noses of a delegation of generals from the Egyptian intelligence and refused to heed their warnings. They are pursuing their aggressive ransom demands for kidnapped soldier Gilead Shalit and utterly ignoring Egypt's advice to put an end to the Qassam barrages. Hamas offers Egypt a modicum of respect - but it is merely lip service.They are not shy of veiled threats toward Cairo anymore. They sense that the great and mighty Egypt would not dare to engage in an open confrontation with Hamas or its Moslem Brotherhood mentors. Up to now, they have clearly been right. The Egyptians are afraid that the situation in Gaza will spill over into their own territory, turning the Sinai peninsula into a zone of Palestinian influence. They already have enough difficulty dealing with the Beduins in Northern Sinai, some of whom are allying themselves, for the first time in history, with Islamic fundamentalist groups, including branches of al-Qaeda. Moreover, the authorities are afraid that the situation in Gaza will incite demonstrations by the Moslem Brothers within Egypt, and they have already made hundreds of preemptive arrests. But Mubarak did not feel confident enough to prevent the breach of the barrier between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and subsequently allowed hundreds of thousands to stream freely into Sinai from Gaza. Khaled Mashaal was quick to declare the "nationalization" of the crossings. No more Israeli controls, no more EU inspectors, no more soldiers from Abu Mazen's Presidential Guard. Hamas and Hamas alone will oversee the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt and will force Egypt to abandon its commitments to all of the other parties involved. Hamas is trying to force Egypt to become its partner. Egypt is gradually becoming an integral part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A thoughtful Lebanese commentator, Sarkis Naoum of al-Nahar, writes of the possibility that Egypt will again become responsible for the Gaza Strip. First, Egypt was the route for arms and money smuggling and failed in its attempt to enforce monitoring of the types of equipment and amounts of money that crossed its borders. Subsequently, Egypt failed to prevent Hamas's military coup in the Gaza Strip. Now, Egypt is abandoning control of its border with the Gaza Strip, relying instead on the capricious Hamas commanders. Cairo is not in control of events and not charting an independent course; it is being dragged into complications that it never wanted. Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.