Monday, January 31, 2011

Concerning Israel's Anxiety About the Events Unfolding in Egypt

The foreign policy blogo-sphere has been understandably abuzz with the potentially revolutionary events happening in Egypt. I hadn't really intended on commenting on this remarkable event except that many of the blogs that I've been reading have frustrated me by downplaying the repercussions a regime change in Egypt might have vis a vis Israel. For example, at RealClearWorld in the context of a discussion of whether or not American aid to an autocratic regime in Egypt still makes sense writes this about Israel:

The first of these rationales (i.e., aid to Egypt as an incentive for maintaining a peace with Israel) has long stopped making sense. Egypt has kept peace with Israel not out of an abundance of good will but because they understand the folly of trying to defeat them. American aid or no, it's quite difficult to imagine the Egyptian military getting it into their heads that a war with Israel would be a good thing to start in the 21st century. (for the entire post go here)

Now before addressing this statement it might be best to briefly recap the historical relationship between Israel and Egypt:

1.) Egypt, along with other Arab powers, attempted to snuff out the newborn existence of the Jewish state during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war but failed. Diplomat Ralph Bunche was instrumental in getting the parties involved to sign a ceasefire.

2.) Israel, in collusion with France and Britain during the 1956 Suez crisis, captured the Sinai delivering a devastating blow to the Egyptian Army. However, under intense diplomatic pressure from the United States and other countries Israel subsequently withdrew from the Sinai.

3.) Israel delivered an astonishing defeat to Egypt (and other Arab states) during the 1967 Six Day War capturing, once again, the Sinai. Israeli peace overtures following the war were rejected by the Arab states including Egypt at Khartoum where the (in)famous three 'nos' were uttered: "no peace, no recognition, no negotiation".

4.) The new leader of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, launched a surprise attack on Israel on their holiest day which initiated the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Israeli's eventually drove back the Egyptians but Sadat's prestige was nonetheless bolstered throughout the Arab world following the war.

5.) Following upon his amazing unilateral visit to Jerusalem, Sadat and then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin through the brokerage of President Jimmy Carter (see the Camp David Accords of 1979) signed a peace agreement that required Israel to give back the Sinai to Egypt, which it subsequently did, in return for the recognition of the existence of Israel which Egypt gave.

6.) In 1981 Anwar Sadat whose peacemaking with Israel was highly unpopular with both the Egyptian people and the Arab world was assassinated which brought the current Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, to power.

7.) Surprisingly, Mubarak maintained an albeit cold peace with Israel even aiding them in the prevention of some weapons from entering the Gaza strip.

So as you can see there exists a long mostly hostile history between the two countries even though Mubarak has kept a cold peace with Israel up til now. Therefore, a regime change no matter what its character would be of major concern to the Israelis. Moreover, this concern is less about the possibility of a conventional war with a new regime in Egypt and more about the consequences that could arise from an unstable regime change especially concerning the Egyptian/Gazan border. Israel cannot afford a regime that's unable and/or unwilling to help maintain the security on that volatile border. Instability at this border would mean more weapons for Hamas that could lead to another perhaps more devastating war between Israel and Hamas than that which occurred in 2008/09. My point is that Israeli anxiety about the ongoing events in Egypt is more about the potential consequences a revolution could have on the stability of the region and less about a fear that a regime change might lead to a future conventional war between the two countries. Therefore, Israel's angst is quite understandable and shouldn't be minimized.

Fortunately, there are other voices in the blogo-sphere that provide a more sound analysis of the revolutionary events going on in Egypt. For more read Daniel Drezner's insightful post here.

No comments:

Post a Comment