Israel has been very cautious about the Arab “Spring” from the first moment, even though her concerns were ignored or belittled by the international community, but now the next moves in the Middle Eastern chess game are becoming clearer. Following Egyptian President Morsi’s power play of last week, when he fired his top military officers, there is growing concern not only in Israel, but also the West about the direction that Egypt is taking.
The Jewish state was reportedly surprised by the decision to dismiss Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of Staff Sami Enan, and is watching the evolving situation with some concern. Morsi stunned the world on Sunday, when he announced that he would be replacing them—in essence dismissing the most powerful figures of the post-Mubarak era in Egypt.
A senior government source told Israel Radio on Monday morning that the incoming heads of the Egyptian military are well-aware of the importance of cooperation with Israel over the situation in the Sinai Peninsula and along the border between Israel and Egypt. However, the source added, that it was as yet unclear whether they fully appreciated the vital necessity of military cooperation between the two countries. Morsi’s current position of no direct communication with Israel makes it very difficult to establish any sort of dialogue and cooperation, and also makes it more difficult to formally assess the plans of the new Egyptian government.
Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel commented that we may see a brief period of crisis in Israel’s relations with Egypt. He added that support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is actually lower than the support it managed to secure ahead of the elections. The organization would therefore have to invest efforts in the coming months to lay down secure foundations for its leadership in Egypt.
Morsi’s decision appeared to please the Hamas government in Gaza. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh telephoned the incoming defense minister, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to congratulate him on his appointment. He promised Sissi that Hamas would continue to help maintain stability and peace in Egypt.
In even more worrying news, Egypt has reportedly placed anti-aircraft missiles in Sinai, violating the conditions of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
Egypt has set up anti-aircraft missiles in the Sinai Desert, without notifying Israel and in violation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, according to Israeli reports, even as Egypt’s new leader has seized control of Egypt’s vast bureaucracy.
Israeli officials are not speaking publicly about the missile transfer that is only the latest and perhaps the most serious of actions by Egypt’s new Islamic regime that may signal the imminent failure of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty.
Putting missiles along Israel’s border, without Israel’s permission, was one of the central factors leading up to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Egypt used the cover of anti-aircraft missiles to attack on Yom Kippur.
But the commentator says that the missile move is only the most visible part of sweeping changes in Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the pro-US autocrat who led Egypt for 30 years.
“Morsi is now the head of the executive branch, and he appoints and dissolves governments in Egypt, [but] he is also the legislative branch in the absence of a parliament. and [can] … enact any law he wants.,” said Dr. Guy Bechor, one of Israel’s top Arab affairs experts.
“The new Egyptian leader is also in charge of foreign policy, domestic policy, security, economy and more,” added Bechor, who specializes in legal and journalistic analysis of Arab society at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya.
Bechor said “the current dictatorship is even harsher than Mubarak’s, whose decisions were reached together with parliament, political parties and the courts. Here we are talking about one man who controls everything.”
Avi Yissacharoff, Arab affairs reporter for Haaretz newspaper, agreed, noting that Morsi had effectively become the king of Egypt.
The movement of Egyptian missiles comes at a time of great regional unrest, and it raises the stakes and the tension on Israel’s southern border even as intense pressure is growing on Israel in the north and the East:
- In the east, Jordan faces growing instability as Bedouin tribes … are protesting economic conditions, and as more than 150,000 refugees have streamed into the country from war-torn Syria;
- In the north, Lebanese-based Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his pro-Iranian militia would launch its rockets and mortars at Israel inflicting “tens of thousands of deaths” if Israel tried to strike at Iran;
- Also in the north, Syrian opponents of the Assad regime—largely drawn from Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood—may get control of some of Syria’s stores of advanced weapons: rockets, missiles and bio-chemical warfare stores, and they are trying to get American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
To top it all off, in a sign of warming ties between Egypt and Iran, President Morsi is planning on attending the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Tehran at the end of August.
As this unpleasant reality finally dawns on Western countries, Dennis Ross, former adviser to Presidents Bush and Obama, writes in the Washington Post that Egypt’s leaders need to face reality (although this is advice that should be given equally to Western leaders):
None of this means that Egypt’s path of change is foreordained. It does mean that the president, who has largely surrounded himself with members of the Muslim Brotherhood or sympathizers, dominates all of Egypt’s institutions of power. He and the Brotherhood will find it hard to escape responsibility for whatever happens in Egypt. The country faces daunting economic challenges; it will need significant outside assistance and private investment. Morsi and the Brotherhood are seeking outside support for their “renaissance plan” to revitalize the economy; after they resisted the conditions for an International Monetary Fund agreement when they were not in power, Morsi and the Brotherhood now appear eager to not only gain the loan but also to borrow more than the $3.2 billion that the IMF was prepared to offer conditionally.
In this respect, Morsi and the Brotherhood seem to recognize reality. But in another important regard, they appear determined to deny it. Consider that Morsi denied sending Israeli President Shimon Peres a response to a note that Peres had written him after news of the correspondence provoked a backlash in the Brotherhood over Morsi having any such contact with Israel. What makes this particularly noteworthy is that Peres’s office did not release Morsi’s letter publicly until after checking with the Egyptians to make sure it was okay to do so. The outrage among the Brotherhood led Egypt’s president to publicly deny a fact. Similarly, consider that the Brotherhood immediately blamed the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence organization, for the Sinai attack that killed the Egyptian soldiers — something that the Brotherhood knew to be untrue.
What conclusions should be drawn about an organization that cannot admit the truth? That insists on living in its own reality? If nothing else, it’s clear that the group the Brotherhood is wedded to its ideology and cannot admit anything that might call its basic philosophy into question. But the United States and others should not accommodate the Brotherhood’s alternative reality. This is not to say that we have to agree on everything. Policy differences are understandable — but it is not acceptable to deny reality and foster a narrative and policies based on untruths and fictions.
The record to date is not good: News reports suggest that more than 100,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt ; there have been new efforts to intimidate the media, and Morsi has moved armored forces into the Sinai without first notifying the Israelis — a requirement of the peace treaty. The administration’s position needs to be clear: If this behavior continues, U.S. support, which will be essential for gaining international economic aid and fostering investment, will not be forthcoming. Softening or fuzzing our response at this point might be good for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it won’t be good for Egypt.
I think the problem here is that Western liberals have not internalized that the Muslim Brotherhood only wants what’s good for the Muslim Brotherhood, and not for their own unaffiliated countrymen or anyone else in the neighbourhood.
Barry Rubin clarifies the situation succinctly and clearly as usual in his latest article “What happened in Egypt“:
A short history of democracy in Egypt. In February 2011, the Mubarak regime fell. There was going to be a parliament elected in Egypt. The parliament was elected. Its election was invalidated. Today there is no parliament in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood said it would want to run one-third of the candidates for seats. Then they ran one-half. Then they ran all. Then they said they would not run a president. Then they did and elected a president. And they and the Salafists elected 70 percent of the parliament. But now there is no parliament.
The parliament was going to pick a constituent assembly to write a constitution. But now there is no constitution. There are no restrictions on presidential powers.
And we were told that the Egyptian government had promised to adhere to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. But when it wished, the regime simply violated the treaty and sent forces into the eastern Sinai. And it announced an alliance with Hamas, which openly declared its desire to go to war with Israel and destroy it. And Cairo did not demur.
The Egyptian regime did more economic damage to Israel by violating its contract on natural gas shipments than any other Arab regime in the history of the country because Israel had to spend billions of dollars replacing that lost fuel. That is why Israeli taxes are going up and social spending must decline. The U.S. government did not lift a finger to help.
The entire Israeli strategic plan has had to be altered to add a new defensive front along the border with Egypt. New units will be organized; new fences built; new equipment ordered and paid for.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, arguably the Arab world’s leading sociologist and certainly the leading advocate of a liberal-Islamist alliance against the old Arab military regimes, has now totally changed sides, warning that the Islamists want to hijack power and establish dictatorships. He pleads for Westerners to wake up.
Egyptian President al-Mursi has now named the heads of the main Egyptian newspapers, radio stations, and television networks. They include sleaze balls that sold out to the Mubarak regime and will do whatever he tells them and supporters of Islamism. The first roundups have begun of reporters who are too bold and honest in their investigations. The walls are closing in.
Soon the generals will be replaced; soon the judges will be replaced, and so too will be the diplomats. In other words, the internal and external bureaucracy of Egypt’s government will become transformed. The old national security considerations will change.
The next stop is the court system, where plans are being made already to eliminate judges…
Consider what this means in foreign policy.
– Arab allies 2011: Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Egypt wanted to help against Iran and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.
ARAB ALLIES 2012: HAMAS, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN JORDAN, SYRIA, TUNISIA, LIBYA, ETC. Will get along with Saudis if give money and don’t interfere.
– Israel 2011: Dislikes but understands it shares common interests in battling Islamists of both Brotherhood-Hamas and Iran-Syria varieties as well as al-Qaida. Keep Hamas under control to avoid war and violence along border.
ISRAEL 2012: WIPE OFF MAP POSSIBLY INCLUDING WAR BUT CERTAINLY SUBVERSION AND TERRORISM CAN BE USED AGAINST IT; ALL ISLAMIST AND ARAB FORCES SHOULD BE MOBILIZED; AND ANY NEGOTIATED SOLUTION BLOCKED
Overall posture 2011: Minimize Egypt’s role in regional affairs to be left alone and focus on survival and development.
Overall posture 2012: Maximize Egypt’s internal transformation into an Islamist state and change of all institutions including army. Take leadership over Gaza. Tunisia. If possible Libya can be senior partner to Syrian Islamist regime. Brush aside Turkish influence. Minimize Iranian influence in Arab and Sunni spheres.
And if that doesn’t give you sleepless nights you’re obviously not living in the Middle East.