I would like to share today in my blog a really brilliant article written by my good friend, Egyptian freelance journalist Hany Farouk Ghoraba. This article is about the history of Egyptian-Israeli relations, Camp David peace treaty between them and also about different prospections regarding this issue.
And here is the excellent article which I consider being must read for everybody who is interested in Middles East policy, history and the issues of Egyptian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli relations. I wish to share it with you here:
….Of War and Peace: Egyptian Israeli Relations
By Hany Farouk Ghoraba
“Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.” – Vegetius “ If you wish for peace, prepare for war”
The 5th century Roman writer couldn’t have been more accurate to describe the prevailing situation taking place between Egypt and Israel in the 20th and 21st century post peace era. The countries that fought 4 wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and finally 1973 have always been skeptical of each other’s intentions. Despite the peace treaty which was signed in 1979, none of the countries have felt quite comfortable with the intentions of others. This can be manifested in the endless hidden and announced diplomatic and espionage between the two countries since the signing of the Peace Treaty. The number of Israeli spies caught by Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate EGID in espionage cases have been increasing in the last decade and that the EGID are working 24/7 to uncover such continuous attempts to breach the Egyptian National security.
There are many issues on which Egypt and Israel may collide about and at the same time many others that they are in total agreement about at least till recently. In that regard, the Palestinian cause, occupation of Arab territories and continuous founding of new settlements are all very critical diplomatic issues that Egypt have attempted for decades to be the fair middleman to counter the shift in balance from the American side that was always Pro-Israel after President Carter left office. After the fall of the USSR and end of the cold war the shift of American favoritism towards Israel became more prevalent especially after the first Gulf war 1991 and continued onwards.
|Anwar Al-Sadat, former Egyptian President|
Egyptian intervention and coordination with Israel in favour of the Palestinian cause has shown some success and the Gaza – Jericho agreement between Israel and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in may 1994 couldn’t have been reached without Egypt paving the way for it despite PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s unrevealed tactics to cover the process of negotiations and keeping Egypt out of the loop during critical times of the negotiations. On the other hand, Egypt and Israel completely agree that the Islamist militants represent a clear and present danger to both countries’ security and borders. This has been manifested by the on the continuous coordination between national security bureaus as well as Intelligence agencies in both countries to counter terrorism. Also further coordination has led to over a thousand of imprisoned Palestinians to be released in exchange of prisoners like Gilaad Shalit in 2011.
However, extremist groups like Hamas represent a dilemma in the Egyptian- Israeli relations. Egypt during Mubarak’s era was not cordial to Hamas who always act as loose cannons on the border and rejected any peace initiative. Also, Hamas have been supporting Jihadist groups in Sinai with weapons through hundreds of tunnels between the Gaza and Egyptian borders. Egypt have repeatedly attempted to mediate the Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in vain with the Hamas extremist elements rejecting any peace proposals and placing hurdles in the face of final settlement of the cause as well rejecting any new elections in Gaza or recognition of the Palestinian authority as the only representative of the Palestinians.
The relation between the two regional powers has witnessed ebbs and tides between Egyptian and Israeli regimes in the past decade despite its publicly frozen nature. One of the examples of is the emerging of hostile statements from Israeli politicians and regime figures like Avigdor Lieberman the minister of Foreign of affairs in Israel against Egypt and former President Mubarak. Lieberman the extreme right wing representative threatened to bomb the High Dam of Aswan in retaliation of Egypt support to Yasser Arafat and spoke of degrading manner about the former Egyptian President. As a result Mubarak banned the minister from entering Egypt despite Shimon Pires and Ehud Olmers Israeli Prime minister apologies and from Lieberman himself in later years . He is still banned till this date. Lieberman loose cannon attitude led him to be shunned by even European allies of Israel like former French President Sarkozy who urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to fire Lieberman because of his negative role in the region and the peace process.
Moreover, unlike several decades ago and particularly after the Egyptian Israeli peace treaty the hardliner type of Politician like Lieberman seems to be more appealing to the average Israeli voter as a result of Israelis feeling more shunned and insecure in the middle eastern regionand accordingly they vote to hardliners who they assume would be more capable of protecting their state.
Egyptian relations with Israel throughout the past 3 and half decades have taken several forms and shapes most of which have been cloaked with tense situations due to many elements as discussed further below.
Media wars :
The Doctor Heikal and Mr. Hyde Syndrome
The sense of Xenophobia between the populations of both nations is overwhelming, many Egyptians and Israelis believe that they will never be safe till the other side is complexly obliterated. The demise of the neighbor became the infatuation of many extremists on both sides and the use of both nationalist euphoria and religious one in both Egyptian and Israeli media outlets have been the ongoing theme for decades.
|Mohamed Hassanein Heikal|
Many Egyptian Leftist and Nasserist have fallen victim into what can be labeled as the “The Doctor Heikal and Mr. Hyde” Syndrome. For many years the Nasserist prominent journalist and Middle East famous writer have always fed his loyal readers with almost a daily dose of alternative reality in his Ahram newspaper 17 year daily column and later in his books.
Throughout, years of practice especially during the Nasser Era (1954-1970) Heikal have mentioned piles of half-truths and fabricated realities to the Egyptian reader. For instance, he was the first to call the 1967 Egyptian defeat a “relapse” as a method of toning down the reality of a heavy military loss that took the lives of tens of thousands of Egyptian men in service and resulted in the full occupation of Sinai. In recent years, for some odd reason and just for spite of Mubarak he downplayed the role of the Initial airstrikes in the 1973 war which is a huge error as every military expert have confirmed that these airstrikes have been critical in the success of the 1973 war by the Egyptian army and they crippled Israeli defenses and paved the way for the Mechanical infantry units and tanks to do their job . Heikal and later followed by his many disciples in Egyptian media were categorically against Camp David accords signed by late President Anwar El Sadat, the treaty that actually restored the Sinai Peninsula was labeled as a treason by Heikal and his syndrome struck disciples .
On the other hand, the Nasser’s regime mismanagement, total lack of tact, responsibility and total military failure was nicely labeled as simply a “Naksa” or relapse Heikal and disciples in Egyptian media have never mentioned what would be the alternative. Usually Heikal and Ilk state they don’t wish to go through more wars but all their actions say otherwise as a simple glance by any observer towards their actions they would conclude that they have been beating the drums for war for decades. Their justification for rejecting the peace treaty is that the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians didn’t accept it back then. However, they fail to acknowledge that the terms were presented to the leaders of these countries and they were persuaded to sign it and end this catastrophic struggle once and for all but that never occured. Hence for the good fortune of Egyptians and Israelis, Sadat acted on the best interests of Egypt and didn’t listen to these war-mongers who possess no future vision or alternatives.
The Doctor Heikal and Mr. Hyde syndrome continue to dominate most of Egyptian Media anchors and pundits till this date. One of its manifestations, is the claim that Sinai is an unarmed zone which is completely false as it will be explained later in this article as well as pinning Israel and blaming it for all internal disputes as an easy scapegoat. These attributes have been synonymous with Egyptian media and is becoming more resounding post the Egyptian revolution.
As an example for this the mishandling of the media towards critical issues is the case of the storming of the Israeli Embassy in Egypt by angry mobs led mainly according to videos by some Salafi Sheikhs. The mobs were angry due to the death of 6 Egyptian border soldiers who were caught in the line of fire by Israeli borders who shot at some terrorist militants who penetrated the Israeli borders and they tried to follow them and shot the 6 soldiers by mistake. The fury of all Egyptians is normal and understood but to storm a foreign embassy that is protected by international laws and particularly the Israeli embassy possesses a special and very delicate position is outrageous. The media were literally cheering the attacks with many people calling the assailants as heroes especially a young man who climbed almost 14 floors to pick the Israeli flag and took it down. These incidents among many others like cheering the extremists attacks on the gas pipelines which was blown by anonymous saboteurs over 10 times was cheered and considered as acts of heroism.
Now Egypt is paying the hefty price of endorsing such acts of violence as now mobs storm everything be that USA embassy or the Egyptian Football Federation. Even the popular Egyptian football club Ahly was not spared from being stormed by hooligans among the Ahly Ultras firm who demanded that Al Ahly would cease all activities till their comrades who lost their lives in the Football massacres of Port Said are vindicated by the courts. And as poetic justice goes, some of the anchors who have endorsed these acts on ONTV channel like Youssef Housseiny found himself a victim of Mob attacks by Muslim Brotherhood elements upon his entrance to Egypt Media City. The violence endorsed and applauded by the media as a way of self-expression now is now the cause of fear of everyone one. Most of the anchors and journalists who are possessed by the Dr. Heikal and Mr. Hyde syndrome have patriotic feelings towards the country and nationalist feelings towards other Arab ones , but their lack of responsibility in regard of what they publish is uncanny and have thrown Egypt into a dark abyss. The old saying the Road to hell is paved with good intentions old saying certainly applies in their case.
Arab media depiction of Israelis and Jews
It’s notable and ironical that the Egyptian media in the past 3 decades (post the Peace Treaty) have been more vicious against Israel in general than the long years of war. The tone of the media became harsher after the peace treaty. The leftists and Nasserists amongst media anchor and journalists have managed to display their rejection of the treaty in different forms of art as well as in the Media and Press.
The Israelis are usually depicted as a conniving, manipulative, mean, smart but prone to make silly mistakes which the Egyptian protagonist would capitalize on in the end for a final victory for the Egyptian side. One may attribute this to the frustrations of many Egyptians and their believe that there can be no real peace with Israelis due to their rejection of peace initiatives with the Palestinians as well placing hurdles in the path of any serious attempt to reach a final settlement with the peace process.
Other more extremist artists and media outlets adopt a strict no peace with Israel stance that displays their unwillingness to reach any settlement with Israelis. This is more prevalent with the Nasserites and Islamist media outlets. Mubarak’s regime media utilized quite a strange tactic on Egyptian National TV and Press. In most cases, the media would utilize Israel as a scapegoat for a lot of economical, social and political hardships that the Egyptians were facing. Witch hunts against any artist; writer or journalist who calls for peace or normalization of relations is exercised by the Nasserist dominated media in Egypt. It’s just as simple as to accuse on person of calling for “Normalization of relations” and all hell will break lose against him. A “Normalizer” is used as effectively by the Egyptian Media as the word “Anti-Semitic” to the Israeli one.
Furthermore, Pro government and opposition analysts and intelligentsia would appear on TV or write columns about the responsibility of Israeli Mossad for most problems in the Egyptian society be that sectarian, economical and social. That scapegoat tactic gave many Egyptians the feeling that they are targeted by outside forces and it worked for a short while. However, Mubarak appearance shaking hands with Israeli officials in Egypt and mostly in his favourite resort in Sharm El Sheikh with wide smiles and hugs did leave a lot of Egyptians confused. Thanks to his own media, he appeared to be in cahoots with the same people his own media labels as conspirators and killers.
The vilification of the Israelis even those who seek peace among them like the “Peace Now” movement did have a counter effect on Mubarak’s image himself among many Egyptians . Added to that media image was the case of exporting Natural gas to Israel which was portrayed in the media as a form of aiding Israeli aggression Palestine. The Islamists and Leftists have capitalized on this case and even an Egyptian court ruled that the Natural gas shouldn’t be exported to Israel.
Former Egyptian minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmy was put on trial of this deal after the revolution and received a prison sentence as according to the court verdict he exported the Gas with much lower prices than the international average prices. But the devil was in the details since the former minister of petroleum committed a huge business mistake of signing long terms contract on fixed price rate per unit and during the latest oil and gas price hike it led to big losses. The decision to sell Egypt’s Gas is possibly not very economical even with good prices because of the desperate need for energy resources in Egypt. However, that was not the main focus since similar gas deals were signed with Spain for example. Moreover,this case was not overhyped because of its economical inviability but because it happened to be a form of “normalization of relations” and economic cooperation with a country that many in Egypt still deem as an enemy.
Throught the years, the media never attempted to differentiate between pro-peace and pro-war Israelis. The Egyptian media had no distinction between Ariel Sharon and Yusi Belin the Israeli Parliament member and pro-peace advocate. They were both the same in their eyes. In that regard the Egyptian media failed miserably to pave the way for a long term settlement of the 7 decades long struggle they were calling for through vilification without distinction thus resulted in a similar attitude and alienation from the other Israeli side that found themselves fighting their the Hawks and pro-war within Israel as well as feeling shunned by both sides and the same goes for the Egyptian pro peace activists like prominent Playwright and writer Ali Salem . Moreover, it can be safe to state that the rise of ultra right wing parties in Israel and recently in Egypt was a direct result of these media wars between the two countries that negatively affected the public opinion about the importance and viability of the peace.
Israeli and Zionist sympathizing media depictions of Arabs :
The Media war was never one sided but actually mainly fought by Israel by proxy through many American and western media outlets. Israeli media and American pro-Israeli media networks and press pursued the habit of dehumanizing the Arabs for the sake for claiming higher moral ground and righteousness for the cause of the Israeli state. From time to time, appears in many Israeli Press and media outlets articles by right wing parties and groups that incite hate and violence against Arabs and particularly Palestinians. There have also been calls by the religious right wing to cancel the treaty with Egypt though these calls are hardly heard by the decision makers in Israel despite their far right wing leniency of some in Israeli Cabinets. Incitement against Israeli-Arabs and the call for their eviction from Israel can be noticed as well in many Israelis newspapers. On the other hand, Israeli press have the habit of over blowing even the smallest incident in Egypt out of proportion and the heightened sense of self preservation is still very prevalent in their literature and media.
The pro-Israeli lobbies and Media production companies like the Canon Group (Formerly Golan- Globus Production) have portrayed Arabs as the villain for long decades. This vilification was aptly elaborated on American Author Jack Shaheen’s excellent Book and documentary Titled “Reel Bad Arabs” which documented countless cases where Arabs and Muslims are negatively portrayed in Hollywood movies throughout its long history. At the same time, it’s noteworthy that most of the bashing done by these media outlets were not targeting Egyptians but on other Arabs like Palestinians , Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and Gulf states populatoins. However, Anti-Semitism charges became a witch-hunt for any journalist, anchor, politician. Even former Egyptian Minister of Foreign affairs and presidential candidate Amr Moussa was not spared from being labeled as anti-semitic by the Israeli media and their allies in the American Media. For decades. The Israeli right wing media exercised vicious on their attacks on Egypt from time and stir waves of hatred that can be labeled as bigotry and discriminatory.
Sadat’s Initiative, Jerusalem visit and Camp David Peace Treaty
“Fortes fortuna adiuvat” Fortune favors the brave the ancient Latin proverb has been synonymous with the late Egyptian president and war and peace hero Mohamed Anwar El Sadat. From his youth years fighting the British occupation of Egypt through his years as a President of fighting Israelis to regain the occupied land of Sinai till the forging of the most famous peace treaty in the 20th century with Israel, The word “fearless” seemed to be synonymous with the man throughout his illustrious life.
Hardly any world leader in history has performed a courageous feat like Sadat did in the midst of an era when even the very thought of initiating negotiations with Israel was shunned and rejected by Egyptian and Arab politicians and people alike. Thanks to the propaganda campaigns during the long decades of war, it was not any easy feat to achieve to convince the Egyptians masses that the war has ended and it’s time to rebuild the nation and forge peace.
Sadat applied a scientific approach in his campaign to achieve peace and retrieve the remainder of the occupied lands in Sinai. That approach can be simply described that the best way to connect between two distant points is a straight line. Hence, he didn’t hesitate to travel directly to Jerusalem to be the first ever Arab leader to visit Israel and possibly the first ever head of state to perform such a feat with a former enemy which had no previous diplomatic relations. The historical visit was a bold move that broke the ice of 3 decades of war and one that changed the face of the Middle Eastern politics forever. Sadat victorious in his war in 1973 war (Yom Kippur War) stood on solid ground in the Israeli Knesset and demanded that this would be the last of all wars and next generations would live in peace and build their nations instead further bloodshed.
Furthermore, Sadat stressed on the liberation of all Arab lands to the borders of June 4 1967 and Palestinians should be retrieve the right for self-determination and their own state with Jerusalem (Eastern) to be its capital. Sadat in his 1977 speech was demanding the same demands that the Arabs would wish to reach now and many initiatives from international and Arab leaders failed to reach anything and the deadlock is still the dominating the situation now for years.
Sadat as an Egyptian nationalist believed like all Egyptian patriots that Egypt is the main player and the most important country in the Middle East and all its decisions and actions should be on based on the highest national interests of the Egyptian state.
As a consequence of the visit , other Arabs states led by Iraq, Syria and Libya formed what they called the “Rejection Front” and banned Egypt’s membership in the Arab League which was formed and headed by Egypt since its inception in 1949, Sadat believing that peace is forged with your enemies and not your friends as a rule, was resilient to continue the peace process and retrieve the Sinai Peninsula back to the Egyptian Sovereignty and finally signed the peace treaty in 1979.
Unfortunately, the Arab leaders of that time were very short sighted and wasted a historical opportunity to end the struggle once and for all and with terms no longer attainable at the moment. Years of Arab –Israeli negotiations since the Oslo accords in 1992 have proven this theory and what was once an easy path to full settlement in 1979 is now a very rocky road in 2012 and onwards.
The Syrian case of Hafez El Assad is particularly a peculiar one, since Al Assad rejected the peace treaty vehemently with the Golan Heights still in Israeli hands till this day. Till the end of his life and throughout his Son’s Bashar El Assad reign of blood, they never directly ordered the firing of a single gunshot against Israel since October 1973 till this date.
Some these nations positions are very peculiar as they seemed completely reliant on Egyptian forces to do the job for them even some forged the most outrageous slogan in the history of warfare which was “Arabs will fight till the last Egyptian Soldier!” . One of the reasons for this stance yet it’s still incomprehensible is the amount of financial support that the Syrian regime received annually from the Arab League and military support from former USSR and Russia afterwards.
The Arabs couldn’t reach in the past 35 years more than a fraction of what was offered in the Camp David accords of what was presented to them by on a golden platter as a result of Sadat dedicated efforts. The situation in the late 1970s was completely different and very few Israeli settlements were built on Arab Occupied land compared to nowadays. Also there was a real desire from Israel to reach a settlement with all Arabs and to be recognized by them as an independent state. However, that eventually changed with the continuous rejection of the peace treaty and the path to peace became bumpier as the years passed by.
In Later years, the Israelis still feeling shunned by the Arab World became more aggressive and resilient with massive settlements beingbuilt on occupied Arab territories as a policy of forcing new realities on the ground was being forged. Moreover, the invasion of Lebanon to attack Arafat’s PLO strongholds in 1982 and what resulted from their invasion of the massacre known as Sabra and Shatilla done by their Lebanese allies The Phalanges . That atrocity did give hard time for pro-peace advocates in Egypt to defend the peace treaty. However, the peace still serves Egyptian highest national interest and for any Egyptian policy maker that is what counts above all other elements.
Sadat contrary to his adversaries; Egyptian and Arab critiques had a long term vision that served his country and saved generations of Egyptians a lot of bloodshed and economical ruin which would have led to the same ending i.e. further peace talks under more strenuous conditions. Sadat decision was impeccable and to him timing was everything. He earned his Nobel Peace Laureate shared with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin not just for their bravery to take the right decision but for opening the door towards a shift in politics towards a final settlement in the Middle East. Sadat’s efforts were backed by the assistance of former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and the great efforts former USA president Jimmy Carter.
It’s worth mentioning that if your archrivals or enemies were Saddam Hussein , Moamar El Qaddafi , Hafez El Assad and Ayatollah Khomeini who happened to beSadat’s mortal enemies , then you should know that you are on the right track.
Demilitarization of Sinai : The truth and myth
According to the treaty of START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed between USA and former USSR (Russia) Russia is prohibited according to START treaty to move their mobile Intercontinental ballistic missile launchers (Topol SS-25&SS-27 ) without notifying the United States. These launchers have fixed locations and should these locations be changed for any military purpose by the Russians they are obliged under the treaty terms to notify the USA or that that will be considered as an act of aggression. This is one of many other examples of post –wars or conflicts arrangements that countries take to diffuse any situation that can lead to a full struggle. These by no means represent any infringement of the sovereignty of the states signing such deals. Similarly, when the Camp David treaty was signed some precautions must be made from both sides including the limited number of Egyptian Armed forces in Sinai.
|Egyptian tanks in Sinai|
For many years, the Egyptian media propagated that the Sinai is completely demilitarized and that was a complete misguidance. The truth is that Sinai is divided into 3 zones A,B and C . In Zone C it is almost completely demilitarized short of some lightly armed border patrols, snipers and police forces. On the other side in Israel Zone D is lightly armed as well. The current security challenges in Sinai were not present in 1979 as there were no smuggling tunnels built by an extremist group like Hamas or other extremist militants at that time. Sadat took the right decision to sign the treaty with its current for many reasons:
1- Liberating and retrieving 61,000 square Km (3 times the size of Israel) of precious Egyptian land was the paramount and most imperative goal to achieve under any circumstances.
2- The willingness of Egypt that peace would prevail between with Israel and later in the whole region required a form of good will since it was agreed that any military movements from both sides within the 4 zones in Sinai and Israel would be monitored by international observers stationed in Sinai and whom are also notified by each side prior for any troops movement in the region.
3- According to some Egyptian military experts that Sinai would require about 250,000 soldiers to maintain a certain degree of security in an almost impossible to secure rugged desert and mountainous region. These expenses would be hefty and hence new military technological advancements would substitute the constant presence of Armed forces in the Sinai Peninsula as the ability of the Egyptian army to mobilize their troops inside Sinai should the Israelis would breach the terms of agreement is very high.
4- Historically , Egypt had the army fully deployed all over Sinai in 1967 war and yet the country was defeated and Sinai was occupied while the reverse happened in 1973 with Israelis had their army fully deployed in the same place with a bonus of the highly fortified Bar Lev defense line stretching with the entire length of the Suez canal and Israelis were defeated as well and the Bar Lev defense line was completely overrun and destroyed by Egyptian troops in less than 6 hours of military operations in October 6th 1973. Hence full deployment of troops in Sinai had no effect in the outcome of the 2 last wars and even might represent a burden to fully fortify the troops within that area.
5- The treaty allows the redeployment of troops in cases of emergency upon the notification and approval of the opposite side like what happened in August 2012 when a sneaky terrorist attack by Islamists militants took the lives of 16 innocent and brave Egyptian soldiers. Egypt had to retaliate heavily and Operation “Eagle 2” was initiated to cleanse Sinai from terrorists who infiltrated the peninsula through Gaza. Main Battle heavy tankers were deployed as well as air force units to eliminate the terrorists and managed to kill and apprehend many of them. Hence, the treaty is not written in stone and flexible enough in cases of emergency. Further modifications for better border security on the treaty might be discussed in the near future though the hardliner governments in both countries might represent an obstacle for this goal to be achieved shortly.
Accordingly despite all the naysayers, the treaty managed to stabilize the region for over 3 decades and restored Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty. The treaty ensured that no further bloodshed is spilled on orders of the commanders of both countries. Also it ensured the free and secure passage through the Suez Canal and saved billions of dollars for Egyptians to rebuild their country. Also , it created great sources of economic income with the Establishment of the touristic Egyptian Riviera on the Red Sea.
Those who oppose the limited presence of Egyptian army in the region still haven’t answered what if the treaty wasn’t signed and Sadat didn’t have the intelligence and prudence to accept it? The answer is simply that would have been no Sinai to discuss about its security arrangements because it would still be a battlefield for decades to come.That is a question the critiques especially those Egyptians extreme socialists as well as Islamists, journalists and politicians who rejected the treaty and never provided an alternative solution for the simple reason that unlike Sadat they don’t have one. Sadat paid a price with own price in 1981 by being assassinated by terrorist Islamist group in the same day of celebrating the 6th of October 1973 victory. He died heroically defending that peace and future generations have realized how mistaken were their elders especially they have seen what his enemies done of exterminating their own people under the pretext of fighting the west and the Israelis be that Saddam, Qaddafi, Khomeni, Assad or Assad Jr.
History is quite an open source for everyone to learn from it should they wish to. Sadat joined an elite club of heroes and leaders who paid their lives for changing the nations destiny and believes among them are Abraham Lincoln, John Mahatma Gandhi , Martin Luther king, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi and few more. They died trying to liberate their countries and pushed them forward in an attempt to change realities forged by years of bloodshed and endless struggles.
Religion at play:
Both sides Israeli and Arab were keen to interpret the Old Testament in the case of Israel and the Quran in the case of Egypt in their favour throughout their struggle. These interpretations were mostly done according to their own whim and based on that interpretation; their political and even war strategies are formulated. Quoting verses of the Quran and the Old Testament seemed to provide legitimacy for any political act taken by any side. Sheikhs and Rabbis could become very handy in these matters to legitimize any acts taken upon their mortal enemy to have the blessing of God be that air bombing villages with civilians and children in Palestine or Lebanon to suicidal bombings of Public transportation busses in Israel. Each side believes that God is on his side and his side only and those whom he kills are sent to hell because they are the enemies of God while they are fighting on the side of the righteous. As a matter of fact, both sides have ignored each other plights and misery for decades. One Islamist radical Sheikh would call the Jews as descendents of the apes and pigs while a Rabbi Ovadia Yosef the Sephardic Chief Rabi of Israel would call the Arabs as insects and animals that must be wiped out.
Historically, religion and wars were always a deadly mix that keeps struggles ongoing for decades and centuries. The Middle East is cursed by these religious struggles since the crusades. From the very beginning of the Arab Israeli wars and struggle both sides used their own religious rhetoric to justify and rationalize any political or military action against their foes. However, that Arabs usage of religious rhetoric came later in the struggle and particularly after the occupation of Arab land in 1967 especially with the fall of the holy city of Jerusalem in the hands of Israelis.
With the current shift of powers in the Arab spring countries particularly Egypt, the manipulation of religion is expected to continue and be more aggressive especially with Islamists in control of Egypt at the moment. The Islamization of the Arab-Israeli conflict will not work in favour of Egypt nor Arabs In fact it will rally further support for the Israeli religious extremists. Ironically that an Islamic constitution in Egypt might work in favour of Israel’s desire to be recognized as a Jewish state and apply Jewish Jurisprudence instead of its relatively current secular state. In that case, Israel might claim the right that Israeli Arabs have no place inside Israel territory unless they convert to Judaism and the ultra conservative Jews are adopting this strategy to cleanse and clear all Arab presence within the boundaries of Israel which further complicate the struggle.
Military relations and Balance of power:
Ironically for two states that have been in 4 wars, their military leaders have the strongest and most cordial ties of all the factions living in both nations. The army leaders of the two strongest armies in the Middle East are respectful and cordial to one another as they apparently seem to be the only ones who know the implications of not being one. It’s evident that no one abhors and realizes the tragedies of wars more than a soldier and this is manifested in both Egyptian and Israeli army’s till this date.
The balance of power is almost tied between the two countries with Egypt possessing more defensive weapons than Israel as well as more.
Tanks and anti –tanks and anti- aircrafts. Yet Israel air force is more superior in terms of numbers and quality but Egypt has a close number of modern Jet fighters like F16 and Mirage 2000 Jet fighters. Egypt still maintains the largest Navy in Africa and Middle East with Israel purchase of German Dolphin Submarines tilting the balance to its side slightly. However, Egypt didn’t stand idle to this and they are purchasing newly improved German submarines as well for coastal defensive purposes.
Some might believe that Israel having undeclared nuclear capabilities provides with the ability to have the final say in any confrontation. But that could be true if the nuclear armed Pakistan was efficient enough for the country to counter the Islamists in Waziristan area or retrieve the lost Kashmir region from the Nuclear armed India as well.
For Long years , Former Egyptian president Mubarak had declared an initiative to clear the Middle east of all nuclear weapons and declare the region as nuclear-free region to counter the threats of utilizing these weapons in any future conflict but Israel has rejected this and declared that they are under continuous threat from their neighbours and countries like Iran. However, it’s high likely that these weapons will be of use in any future conflict because Israel would be invoking not just world condemnation but actual involvement of countries like China, Russia and possibly Pakistan in such struggle.
The two countries still view the other side power with respect and the military commanders particularly unlike their politicians tread carefully for any step they do as it will have a resounding effect on not just the region but the whole world.
“In peace sons bury their fathers; in War fathers bury their children.”– Herodotus
Life can tolerate every one of all creeds, races and ideologies, the only faction that the world can’t tolerate and shouldn’t tolerate are the terrorists be they are government sponsored or not. Terrorism should be eradicated by all means from this world.
Contrary to popular belief, Mubarak’s era which has been criticized by Egyptian opposition as being too cordial to Israel, has never been that warm in relationships. In fact for two countries that had been in a state of peace since in 1979 and in a state of ceasefire since 1973, the degree of cooperation between Egypt has been minimal. In fact the peace between the two countries has been labeled as the cold peace.
In comparison to what happened in many other regions in the world, the Egyptian Israeli peace is frozen indeed and serves mainly one purpose which is the cease of spilling further blood. The trade agreements between the two countries are limited and usually accompanied by much fuss from the Egyptian media that they usually fail or minimized. The Israelis appear to be more pragmatic when it comes to economical issues unlike most of the Egyptian counterpart business and trade sector. To compare Egypt and Israel with France and Germany for example would be comparing a fairy tale with harsh reality. After more than 30 years of wars and two invasions by the German armies in 1914 and 1940 and occupying France twice by Germans, these very wars that resulted in millions of human casualties and total destruction of infrastructure didn’t prohibit both French and German nations to celebrate 60 years of friendship with a wide celebration all over the 2 nations in September 2012. Germany is now France’s biggest trade partner.
Some may argue that the case is different since Israel is still adopting the same tactics and aggression practiced in years of wars with other Arab nations like they did before the peace agreement with Egypt. It maybe a valid point but it’s still not an excuse to shut down all forms of connections with the Pro-peace camp in Israel and alienating them. Treating Israelis as one entity or being all the likes of Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon is fatal mistake since stereotyping is the key to further struggles and endless wars. Among Israelis are children, women, older people, scientists and hard working people like Egyptians and any other nations. Average Israelis look for the same peaceful life as the average Egyptian and they want their families to be safe, well educated and prosperous as well. It’s imperative that both need to realize that that peace is always forged with your enemies and not your friends so sacrifices and concessions must be made to achieve it.
On the other hand, Israel has an uphill battle to fight to convince the Arabs and most of the world of their future good intentions and that they are not another religiously driven expansionist force in the region. They have to prove that they are not the force that utilizing religious or historical pretexts to occupy more Arab land.
A Declaration from Israel that Eastern Jerusalem will become the capital of the new Palestinian state capital as part of the final settlement of the peace process will be an imperative step to consolidate the peace deal. Without Eastern Jerusalem all peace negotiations are bound to fail regardless of any progress that they could ever reach. Also Israel, should vow to cease all settlement activities on Palestinian territories on all areas seized post 5th of June 1967. Despite their are some calls for a single state for both Palestinians and Israelis with shared resources and rights, that solution is still far fetched given the very deep profound animosities between the two.
Similarly, Arabs have to calm the fears of Israelis that they are not out there for their blood and they are not planning to obliterate their state given the chance which was the rhetoric that dominated their literature and political speech throughout the past 7 decades. Threats to wipe out the Israeli state can no longer be tolerated under any pretexts and each country shall responsible for all activities of political and militant groups operating on their sovereign territories. The Camp David accords signed in 1979 between Egypt and Israel despite their expiry, can form a model for any upcoming negotiations and certainly Egypt can play a key role in the final settlement provided the tough negotiations expected should have both sides of the equations committed once and for all with all good will to accomplish unlike the situation since the Oslo accord in December 1992.
However, in order to revisit the reality on the ground, any future political settlement will be met by the usual enemies of peace in other words those who benefit from the status quo. Like religion has been a business in the Middle East for ages, the Palestinian cause and the Arab/Israeli struggle has been one also since its inception in the 20th century. Hundreds of Egyptian and Arab Politicians, media anchors, writers and religious clerics will fight any movement for peace to the bones. The reason for this is obvious that the business of the Palestinian and Arab Struggle is far too big to be to be given up that easy. The thriving business of book writing, daily columns in major newspapers, press conferences, talk shows, etc. will vanish. Also a lot of trade arrangements within the Arab world have been set on the basis of the current situation like the ones of Hamas in Gaza strip and their smuggling business.
Aside from these facts, the boogey man of Israel in this case will disappear to many Arab regimes who curbed the freedoms in their since the 1950s till now in the name of fighting the common enemy. All opposition was crushed in Egypt during the Nasser’s era in the name fighting the “Zionist identity” as media used to call Israel and still does occasionally. Late Egyptian President Nasser famous words were “There shall be no higher sound than the sound of the battle” and on that pretexts Egyptians lost a lot of freedoms for that purpose. The same tactic was utilized by almost every Arab dictator from the Atlantic Ocean to The Persian Gulf and ironically by those who had no contact with Israel or ever were willing to fight the Israeli state like Saddam’s Era Iraq and Saleh’s Era Yemen for example.
On the other hand, the ultra conservative Israeli parties and politicians will be out of business and so the associations like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) the famous Zionist affiliated lobby and many other similar lobbies and associations that built their entire structure on supporting Israel and funding their military and economy by all possible means.
Their entire discourse was always based on the fact that Israel is under threat of elimination of by all its neighbours and thus endless support financial, military and political must be provided for them to sustain the Israeli state. These powerful lobbies, parties and politicians have no interest in a full implementation of a real and final peace treaty with a two state solution. The reason is like the Arab side self-interest groups, these interest groups very existence rely on the continuity of the struggle.
Aside from the above, the Islamists who just claimed authority in Egypt, Tunisia and expected more in the future aren’t peace advocates. On the contrary, their very message like their Jewish radical counterparts defies any peace with the Israelis. Despite the fact that the current Islamist Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have vowed to honour the peace treaty with Israel, there are indications and fears that he is being pressured by the constituency of his followers like and particularly his own group the Muslim Brotherhood to take harsher stances against Israel.
Thus, the already cold peace can turn into a frozen one and that ironically will ignite further troubles in the near future. It’s still lurking in the minds of many political observers, those pre-elections Nazi styled rallies of Morsi’s supporters organized with the chants and slogans of recapturing of Jerusalem and threatening further wars in the regions. Of course President Morsi and even the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in an attempt to appease the west downplayed the importance of these rallies and reaffirmed their continuous commitment to peace. But the duration of this stance before Morsi for some electoral or domestic reason will succumb to the pressures some of the loose cannons from his camp or the more conservative camp like the Salafis are yet to be seen. Should this occur, that will be the equivalent of committing a huge political sin that will ignite not just the entire region but the whole world. Hence, there are so many politicians and players in the region and outside that will lose their leverage should a fully fledged peace reigns the region.
Unfortunately, so many people in Egypt have forgotten the years of wars or haven’t been around during them so they believe it will be fought far away battlefields and nothing will hurt them as they will be following it like a Football World Vup in their favorite satellite or cable channel. Realistically that is will never be the case , what they believe is daily hardships now from power outages, lack of certain types of fuels or food commodities will be magnified tenfold just in case the misfortune of a war in the region is ignited again. Their usual habits of spending their time with family and friends till the early hours of the morning will be a distant memory and their entire way of life will change to much worse.
Most importantly, all those war-mongers among Islamists, leftists, journalist and strategic experts who portray themselves as heroes daily in the night TV shows will be the first to flee the country using their second passports which most of them actually carry and for those who don’t, many have amassed quite a fortune of selling their propaganda throughout the years enabling them to live like royalty in any country of their choice.. The ones who will actually suffer are the simple everyday Egyptians who are still suffering hardships as a result of Political miscalculations and horrendous mistakes by previous regimes that led them into wars they could have avoided or at least would have more efficiently fought.
The usual victims will always be the average citizen of this region whose life will be turned into a living hell and his sons will be taken for the slaughterhouse in an effort to extend an endless conflict over a land though precious and holy for all the Abrahamic Monotheistic religions but still the size of the state New Jersey, USA (ranked 47th out of 50)
It might be high time for Egyptians to focus on their domestic pile of economic, social and cultural issues before tapping into further international issues. The pride of modern Egyptians relies now on restoring their presence in the world as an economic, scientific and cultural center of the world and not through further military incursions and adventures. The economic situation in Egypt is dire as it is now let alone bearing the costs of a new war. Maybe it’s time now to channel all the negative emotions into rebuilding a country that has suffered a lot in the past few decades out of wars and mismanagement of resources instead of searching of military pride which they already attained in 1973 war.
Many Egyptians abhor the idea of the normalization of relations with Israel. They attribute this stance and feeling to the continuous occupation of the Israelis forces to Palestine and other Arab lands and the continuous wars of aggressions of the Israeli army in the past decades last of which in Lebanon 2006 as a result of Lebanese Militia Hezbollah ambush led to the killing and caputring several Israeli Soldiers. Despite its very harsh military retaliation mainly on civilians in Lebanon, Israel lost a lot in this war more than the actual war which they lost as well for failing to achieve its strategic goals set by Israeli command. It’s actions like these and magniloquence statements from the likes of Israeli Minister of Foreign minister of bombing the high dam in Egypt are still lurking in the minds of many Egyptians.
Accordingly, Israeli government figure statements and actions, make it even harder for moderate Egyptians to accept the normalization of any relations. Aside from these facts, the continuous assaults by some extremist orthodox Jews on Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem which represents the third of the holiest places for the Muslim world represents reason for continuous anger from Egyptians and Muslims in general. “
On the other hand , Arabs are not without their pile of sins as well, most if not all the Arab countries are dictatorships of some level , the degree of freedoms in Arab countries till recently were minimal and still many suffering from oppression exercised either by regimes generally or from majorities against minorities. It’s really hard for Egyptians and Arabs to claim moral superiority when some extremists among them celebrate the bombing of a mass transit bus filled with Israeli civilians and consider that part of their struggle to liberate Palestine. The Egyptian and Arab media in the past 2 decades have altered the name of suicidal bombings to “Martyr bombings” to paint these acts of terrorism with a religious colour.
Iran funded Hamas as a Palestinian extremist organization and its allies with a lot terrorist and violent activity against Israelis and Egyptians alike have been attempting since their inception in 1989 as a Muslim Brotherhood franchise branch of the Palestinian resistance to drag Egypt into another collision with Israel. Their gun smuggling business into Sinai through tunnels have had a negative impact on the level of security in the Sinai Peninsula. Now with a Muslim Brotherhood on the president seat, Hamas feels safer than ever before and have expanded their smuggling operations in Sinai. It will be a fatal mistake for President Morsi to trade Egypt welfare and international obligations to appease some of his comrades in Palestine. The national security of Egypt and its highest interest supersedes any other priorities.
Unfortunately, Those who oppose these kinds of terrorist activities among media and people are being criticized of siding with the enemy and selling the Palestinian cause. The double standards exist in the Egyptian media mentality in regard of Israel and any other country particularly Arab ones. For instance, Turkey attacking Kurdish PKK army and villages in Iraq was hardly ever given any attention. The crimes committed by many dictators were never given the same coverage and the focus remains on Israel alone.
Furthermore, Israel is still used as a scapegoat for all domestic problems which is a road to nowhere in case Egyptians are seeking real development in the near future. Avoiding confrontations with the dire social, economic and educational problems in Egypt and focusing on the Palestinian cause will only lead to further deterioration in Egypt. Israel becoming the usual suspect for any dispute even sectarian violence is attributed to Israeli Mossad by the Egyptian media with can be considered by some as a complete form of denial. Instead of tackling the roots of the issues they simply defer it to any other source.
Also, Many Egyptians may have to reconsider the fact that there are problems existing in Egypt have much bigger priorities and importance than the Palestinian cause and if they wish to liberate or assist in the independence of Palestinians, they have to start with themselves and rebuilding their nation and apply an Arabic well known proverb “He who doesn’t have it , cannot give it” If they cannot provide Freedom and good life for their people and minorities , there is no possibility they will be able to provide it for any other nation.
If equal rights are not provided to Nubians, Christians, Bedouins and Women, It’s almost impossible to provide the same by proxy for the Palestinians. A lot of self-criticism might be in order here. The care and support about Palestinian case is important but the overzealous infatuation about it over everything else is definitely unhealthy especially, that many Egyptians don’t show the same degree of infatuation to other human tragedies within the region like that of Somalia, Iraq ,Syria , etc.. People dying or shot in the previously mentioned countries are not killed by sugar coated bullets and chocolate bombs. Equal care about them as well is of paramount importance but still of very important is to bring back Egypt as a functioning country and economy.
Dehumanizing everyday Israelis in the media ought to stop as well since this sends a negative message to the world. Forging peace doesn’t mean that you have to love your neighbour or your enemy but it’s a declaration that you can co-exist. The next generations are likely to curse the current ones for wasting numerous chances of reaching any peace in this unstable region and instead left them a legacy of hate, troubles and potential for further wars.
Egyptians, Israelis and the entire Middle Eastern region have to be careful what they wish for. The current weapons in the arsenals of the Middle Eastern armies are much more devastating than their counterparts during the 1960s all the way till the 1980s. War is something that cannot be taken lightly and so simple to ignite yet very hard to extinguish. Even the smallest scale war could cause huge devastation and casualties on all sides something that no sane person would ever wish for. The whole world is holding its breath and held as hostage for the triggering of a war that can be ignited at any time and drags the entire world to a devastating nuclear Third World War. This ticking bomb must be diffused and in the most peaceful and just way in order to avoid this impending doom that not just the region will suffer from but will have repercussions all over the planet.
In the best scenario, an Egyptian Israeli war will drive the oil prices skyrocketing to reach the boundaries of $200 per Barrel in the most optimistic forecasts thus fueling a 1929 similar world economic meltdown due to the incredible price hikes of all possible commodities that are transferred through the Suez Canal. This scenario which is very viable is the reason that the USA and other world power will make sure that the peace between the two countries will prevail at all costs but as history would teach everyone that there is no guaranteed results and peace must be waged vehemently in order to maintain it.
All parties might wish to learn from what President Sadat figured out 4 decades ago and what the great 17th century Dutch scholar Desidrius Erasmus eloquently expressed in his historical quote “The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war”.