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STrouble in inai (NY) TIMES OP-ED) By SHMUEL ROSNER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL BLOG 06/21/12)Source: http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/20/trouble-in-sinai/?gwh=F4B6A78E7FE0861A1BA13CC2BBB5FFEE NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM - It was in ancient Kadesh Barnea that after the Jews´ exodus from Egypt spies sent out by Moses reported back that the land of Canaan would not easily be conquered. And it was from near modern- day Kadesh Barnea, a small village by Israel´s southern border with Egypt, that on Monday another event proved the enduring difficulty of ruling this land.

Militants, possibly Al Qaeda sympathizers, crossed into Israel from Egypt´s Sinai Peninsula and fired on Israeli workers, killing one. Israeli soldiers trying to contain the attack shot dead two of the attackers. Israel rolled tanks close to the border, in violation of the 33-year-old Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. It was a message to Egypt more than an operational necessity, and the tanks were soon withdrawn. But Israel escalated air raids on militants in Gaza, killing four, which has prompted Palestinians to fire rockets at Israeli towns. Israel´s southern border is volatile once again.

This is a low point in what has looked to Israelis like a season of all but good news to come out of Egypt. First, Hosni Mubarak, the president that kept our neighbor to the south relatively stable and tolerably friendly, was ousted by the masses. Then, the security situation in the Sinai, which was already dangerous, deteriorated even more. Militants started blowing up gas pipes, occasionally firing rockets into Israel and directly attacking Israelis traveling on roads close to the border.

And then there was last week. On Saturday, two rockets hit Mitzpe Ramon, an Israeli town farther from the border than any other targeted from Sinai to date. On Sunday, rumors started spreading that the Muslim Brotherhood´s candidate had won the presidential election in Egypt (the result is being contested). And Monday, there was the crossborder attack.

Israel has very little control over this degenerating situation, even though what happens in Egypt will have great impact on Israel´s security. An Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to remain Israel´s ally. At the same time, the Israeli government is wary of making tense relations even tenser by retaliating against attacks from Egyptian territory. It´s left having to protect it citizens with its hands tied [paid content].

Once again, the great irony of neighborly relations in the Middle East reveals itself to Israelis. On the one hand, making peace with autocratic regimes is only ever a temporary fix because their rulers have little legitimacy and the accords they sign come with unknown expiration dates. On the other hand, while hoping for democracy in the Arab world is a noble principle, it is also a recipe for lawlessness and instability.

The history of Israeli-Egyptian relations is a case in point. More than three decades ago, Egypt was the first country to sign peace accords with Israel. Shortly afterward, President Anwar Sadat, who had signed the peace treaty, was assassinated. The deal survived him, however, and lived through many years of quiet under Mubarak -- not an insignificant achievement, at least from Israel´s perspective. But Mubarak´s ouster last year has cast doubt over the two countries´ future relations.

One thing, however, is already clear: the situation in Sinai will be a headache. Sinai is where Palestinian militants from Gaza and Islamist militants from elsewhere might find refuge and roam undisturbed, destabilizing the delicate border and testing Israel´s patience, perhaps even igniting conflict.

Sinai is also a warning: beware of peace deals in the Middle East, and beware of democracy in the Middle East. Both should be desired and pursued, but they should also be eyed with suspicion. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 06/21/12)


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