Egypt with dread (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By CHUCK FREILICH 05/24/12)
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Egypt will hold its first ever free presidential elections this week,
a victory for democracy in which Israel and the entire democratic
world should rejoice, but which fills me instead with a sense of
No matter who is elected, the outcome bodes poorly for Israel,
American interests in the region and probably for Egypt as well. In a
field of candidates in which Amr Moussa, the anti-Israel hardliner of
the Mubarak era, is the leading voice of moderation, little good can
Indeed, it will be a very pleasant surprise if the peace treaty
remains in force a few years from now Ė and if the peace with Egypt
comes to an end, it is hard to imagine that Jordan could remain the
only Arab country at peace with Israel.
Worse, Egypt could rejoin the war camp. This would probably not be
the result of a conscious policy decision, though the very fact that
this possibility now exists is frightening enough.
Rather, it is more likely to be the unintended outcome of a future
round of violence between Israel and Hamas or Hezbollah, or in the
event of an attack on the Iranian nuclear program, when the Egyptian
street may explode in fury and drag the government into actions it
may not want. Been there, done that, no need to go there again.
Maintaining the peace with Egypt is a supreme Israeli national
interest the importance of which cannot be overstated. Egypt was the
only Arab country that participated in all of the full-scale wars,
and was the leader of the confrontational states. Once Egypt made
peace, the other Arab states no longer had the independent
conventional capability to wage war.
It is not by chance that the border with Syria has been quiescent
ever since 1973, and it is not because Damascus became pacifist or a
Lover of Zion; without Egypt it simply had no war option. For 30
years we knew that Egypt was out of the fray, in itself a huge
strategic boon but one which also allowed us to attack the Iraqi and
Syrian reactors, conduct repeated operations, even wars, in Lebanon,
fight the intifadas and much more, without fear of Egyptian
With the largest and most powerful Arab army out of the picture,
Israel was able to divert resources both to other military threats
and, more importantly, to what it truly values: domestic needs.
It is again not by chance that Israelís economy has taken off so
dramatically since the 1980s.
Though certainly not entirely the result of the peace with Egypt, it
is significantly so, and Israel today devotes about six percent of
GDP to defense, as opposed to a whopping 25% in the 1970s. Peace with
Egypt paved the way for the peace with Jordan, and for the
unfortunately failed talks with the Palestinians and Syria.
There is little that Israel can do to directly affect the course that
Egypt takes over the coming years, vital as it is for her security,
and in this case running to Washington for help, our normal solution
to virtually all other problems, will be of limited assistance.
The US, too, has little influence over Egyptís course. American aid
may be vital in maintaining a pro-Western and moderate Egyptian
military, paradoxically the most pro-peace force in the evolving new
Egypt, but this is hardly felt by the Egyptian public.
Israel can, however, make a significant contribution to maintaining
the peace treaty in the long run, by launching a renewed peace
process with the Palestinians. Partisan political perspectives aside,
nothing has undermined peace with Egypt as much as the absence of
progress toward peace, and especially ongoing settlement. The
prospects for progress appear bleak on both the Palestinian and
Israeli sides, but if there is one thing the broad new coalition
could do to save the peace with Egypt, it would be to achieve
progress toward peace, or at least the appearance of the willingness
to do so.
In the coming years we will face numerous challenges from Egypt,
strident rhetoric and significant provocations. Our natural and
justified tendencies notwithstanding, we will have to swallow very
hard and do our utmost to show restraint in the face of Egyptian
hostility, terrorism stemming from Sinai and attacks by Hamas,
Hezbollah and others. No other consideration outweighs the importance
of maintaining the peace with Egypt, including possible military
action to prevent a nuclear Iran.
The writer is a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, is a
senior fellow at Harvardís Kennedy School of Government. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/24/12)
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