Egyptian gas

Cairo’s failure, coupled with the hate-mongering calumny constructed around a bogus controversy, sealed the deal’s fate.

BEDUIN man looks at a gas pipeline in Sinai 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
BEDUIN man looks at a gas pipeline in Sinai 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For all the attempts from all sides to belittle Egypt’s unilateral abrogation of its gas transaction with Israel, the move hardly augurs well. Regardless of all the whitewash prodigiously applied to it, this was the bad, hardly unexpected, outcome of a long sequence of inimical developments which Cairo at best just failed to stem or, worse, which it actively inflamed.
Both Egyptian and Israeli officials sought to pooh-pooh the deal’s scrapping as a business squabble. Both know it’s anything but. Indeed, the 20-year agreement signed in July 2005 was based no less than on the peace treaty between the states and was contracted by the two governments.
Significantly, it was Cairo, not Jerusalem, which insisted on state involvement. Egypt unwaveringly preferred governmental auspices in order to minimize the semblance of normalization, whereby ordinary firms are free to negotiate directly.
Therefore, when Cairo now reneges on the contractual agreement, it means more than a soured business venture. Firstly, it’s a basic violation of a key peace treaty provision. That this is allowed to pass without much squawk indicates Israeli wishful thinking: if we pretend that things aren’t too awful, perhaps they might not get too awful.
At this juncture only the Israel Electric Corporation isn’t playing make-believe. Saying it like it is, the IEC notes that it can’t actually be materially hurt by Egypt’s contract termination because for over a year now no gas has been coming from the Sinai fields anyhow. No fewer than 14 pipeline blasts have irreparably disrupted gas supplies. Their eventual total discontinuance has forced the IEC to resort to massively costlier and more polluting liquid fuels instead.
The contract was basically rendered a dead letter. Even when still formally in effect, it wasn’t binding or enforceable in reality. Nonetheless, the manner in which this lifeless agreement was revoked and the pretexts used to justify its cancellation are particularly galling.
Ever since the Arab Spring’s advent and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Israel was systematically turned into Cairo’s bête noire. Egyptian politicos vie relentlessly for the distinction of the most anti-Israeli candidate in the running.
The Mubaraks now stand accused of having sold gas too cheaply to Israel in return for kickbacks. The truth is irrelevant in Cairo, if not altogether undesirable. Israel is cast as the villain and allegations of association with it serve to smear downfallen figures. Such incitement is hardly conducive to coexistence. The attacks on Israel’s embassy and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood indeed don’t point to a predilection for coexistence. This needs to worry us deeply.
Concomitant with Cairo’s negative attitudes is rampant lawlessness in Sinai, where Beduin tribes have made the peninsula a highway for illegal migration from Africa, human and drug trafficking and, most of all, terror operations.
The sabotaged gas pipes are the least of our troubles. Although Israel has allowed Egypt to increase the numbers of armed personnel beyond what the peace treaty stipulates, there seems no inclination on Cairo’s part to lay down the law and assert its sovereignty in Sinai.
Under these circumstances, the gas deal with Egypt was a goner anyway. But with matchless insolence Egypt actually accuses the Israeli buyers of its fuel of not paying for the gas which was consumed in flames after the pipes were blown up in Egyptian territory or for gas not delivered altogether because the pipeline connections had been violently severed.
That, in the Egyptian narrative, made Israel pro-forma guilty of bad business practices and justified nullifying the contract. Anyway mulling a steep unilateral price hike, the Egyptians now assert that Israel should have paid for commodities it did not get.
For their part, the Egyptians claim to be miffed because the IEC dared demand compensation for the heavy losses it incurred because of Egypt’s failure to live up to its agreement.
Cairo’s failure, coupled with the hate-mongering calumny constructed around a bogus controversy, sealed the deal’s fate. Like it or not, we are sliding frighteningly backward to pre-peace days. No trace of normalization with Egypt remains. The repealed contract underscores that.