Egypt should realize Israel is not the enemy (REUTERS) By Alan Elsner 08/09/12)
Reuters News Service
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Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Mursi, should learn a valuable lesson
from last weekend’s terrorist attack in Sinai that killed 16 Egyptian
border policemen. Israel is not his country’s enemy, and it could and
should be one of its most valuable allies.
Suspected radical Islamist gunmen on Sunday attacked an Egyptian
border checkpoint, killing the troops and stealing two vehicles. One
managed to burst through a security fence and penetrate about a
kilometer inside Israel before Israeli aircraft scrambled and knocked
out the truck and killed several of the attackers.
As his first major national security issue, the attack was a rude
awakening for Mursi, who comes out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s
political tradition of deep hostility to Israel. The Brotherhood was
quick to issue a knee-jerk statement on its Ikhwan Online website
blaming the Israeli spy agency Mossad for the weekend attack and
calling it an attempt to undermine the Mursi presidency.
According to the BBC: “Conspiracy theories are popular across the
Arab world and suspicions of Israel often feed into them. Two years
ago, the governor of South Sinai even blamed the Israeli intelligence
agency, Mossad, for a series of shark attacks at Red Sea resorts.”
But it goes beyond that. Analyst Jeffrey Goldberg recently
wrote: “Anti-Semitism, the socialism of fools, is becoming the opiate
of the Egyptian masses. And not just the masses … Today it’s entirely
acceptable among the educated and creative classes there to demonize
Jews and voice the most despicable anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
Much of the focus on ties between the two neighbors revolves around
the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, which has been a pillar of
regional stability, but which many in the Muslim Brotherhood would
like to either amend or scrap altogether.
Mursi himself recently said he did not want there to be an impression
of cooperation with Israel; nor did he want to strengthen security
ties, due to his fear that Egyptian public opinion would be against
both those moves.
But the reality is that Israel presents no strategic threat to Egypt.
The real threat to both nations comes from al Qaeda and other
jihadists who have established a dangerous foothold in the vast
desert reaches of the Sinai Peninsula.
As the State Department’s annual report on terrorism worldwide
released last week made clear, the situation in the vast and sparsely
populated Sinai Peninsula has approached a crisis point.
“The smuggling of humans, weapons, cash, and other contraband through
the Sinai into Israel and Gaza created criminal networks with
possible ties to terrorist groups in the region. The smuggling of
weapons from Libya through Egypt has increased since the overthrow of
the Qaddafi regime,” the report said.
The ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 created a power
vacuum in Sinai that was quickly filled by jihadists. According to
Michael Herzog of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, they
joined local Bedouin, many of whom felt alienated from the central
government and hoped to improve economic conditions in their
underdeveloped region through activities such as cross-border
These Bedouin, especially those in the northeast and the mountainous
central areas, are well armed and increasingly influenced by extreme
Islamist ideology. They cooperate closely with Hamas and other
Palestinian terrorist groups from Gaza, which have established a
foothold in Sinai by recruiting local tribesmen for various
“Egyptian authorities have evidently lost effective control over
large parts of Sinai, and the peninsula has become a no man’s land.
In the past eighteen months, militant Egyptian and Palestinian groups
have attacked dozens of police stations, checkpoints, and government
institutions there, killing several policemen, while the Egyptian-
Israeli gas pipeline in northern Sinai has been sabotaged 14 times,”
Herzog wrote in June.
The fall of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya created a bonanza for weapons
smugglers. Among the most dangerous weapons taken from unsecured
dumps in Libya are advanced SA-24 shoulder-launched ground-to-air
missiles. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, there are
reportedly al Qaeda forces in Sinai from Yemen, Iraq, Syria and other
Arab and Muslim countries. These groups are supported by the local
Bedouin. Meanwhile, various other terrorist groups are assisting al
Qaeda and smuggling arms and goods into the Strip.
Israel is trying to cope with the new situation through various
means, including constructing a new security fence. Unlike the
Egyptians, who seem to have been taken totally by surprise, Israel’s
forces reacted swiftly and forcefully to Sunday’s attacks,
neutralizing the threat with no losses. Moreover, it emerged that the
Israeli military had warned Egyptian counterparts that an attack
might be coming – and had been ignored.
This is one of those occasions when rhetoric meets reality. Egypt
should face the reality that Israel is a useful ally, and leave the
old rhetoric behind. (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 08/09/12)
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