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 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Protesters burn Israeli flag in Cairo 370
(photo credit: 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.
It is understandable that Egypt does not see eye to eye with Israel on the current situation.
A fair observer has to acknowledge the consistent increase in the number of Palestinian attacks from Gaza against Israel in the past year.
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 complicated affair.
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.
On the 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.
This can 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 solution.
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 Department.