Commentary Magazine


Topic: Egypt-Israel border

Egyptians Reevaluate Their Real Enemies

As I noted yesterday, the Muslim Brotherhood is busily propagating conspiracy theories about Israeli guilt for Sunday’s terror attack in Sinai, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. But there’s a bright side to this story: For the first time ever, many Egyptians aren’t buying it.

True, dozens of demonstrators converged on the Israeli ambassador’s house Monday to demand his expulsion, asserting that Israel was to blame. But the real mob scene occurred at the slain soldiers’ funerals – where crowds chanted slogans denouncing not Israel, but the Muslim Brotherhood, and physically attacked a representative of the Brotherhood-led government, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil.

Nor did the media blindly regurgitate the usual conspiracy theories of Israeli guilt: They duly reported the Egyptian military’s assertion that the attack was perpetrated by terrorists from Sinai aided by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Prominent Egyptian commentators even criticized the army for ignoring the intelligence warning Israel had shared, and President Mohammed Morsi for pardoning thousands of radical Islamists and freeing them from jail. And both in television interviews and on social media sites, many ordinary Egyptians blamed the attack not on Israel, but on Morsi, for having reopened the Gaza-Egypt border.

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As I noted yesterday, the Muslim Brotherhood is busily propagating conspiracy theories about Israeli guilt for Sunday’s terror attack in Sinai, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. But there’s a bright side to this story: For the first time ever, many Egyptians aren’t buying it.

True, dozens of demonstrators converged on the Israeli ambassador’s house Monday to demand his expulsion, asserting that Israel was to blame. But the real mob scene occurred at the slain soldiers’ funerals – where crowds chanted slogans denouncing not Israel, but the Muslim Brotherhood, and physically attacked a representative of the Brotherhood-led government, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil.

Nor did the media blindly regurgitate the usual conspiracy theories of Israeli guilt: They duly reported the Egyptian military’s assertion that the attack was perpetrated by terrorists from Sinai aided by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Prominent Egyptian commentators even criticized the army for ignoring the intelligence warning Israel had shared, and President Mohammed Morsi for pardoning thousands of radical Islamists and freeing them from jail. And both in television interviews and on social media sites, many ordinary Egyptians blamed the attack not on Israel, but on Morsi, for having reopened the Gaza-Egypt border.

Moreover, the outrage shifted the balance of power between the army and the Brotherhood in the cabinet, enabling the army’s representative, Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, to force Morsi to seal the Egypt-Gaza border “indefinitely,” just days after having triumphantly reopened it. The army also poured troops accompanied by bulldozers into the Gaza border region to begin sealing the Gaza-Sinai smuggling tunnels – a step Israel had long pleaded for in vain. It even launched its first-ever air strikes on suspected terrorists in Sinai.

Finally, the public outrage seems to have emboldened Egyptian liberals: Former parliamentarian Mohammed Abu Hamed, for instance, launched a blistering attack on Morsi in which he even took the courageous step of defending the peace with Israel.

“The president bears responsibility for this [Sunday’s attack], which was caused by actions his government has taken recently, such as opening the crossings and giving amnesty for Islamist detainees,” Abu Hamed told his followers via Facebook.

“These exceptional measures, which allowed the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip without any security measures, allowed the entry of a large number of extremist religious groups from al-Qaeda and others to Sinai in addition to the elements of Hamas,” Abu Hamed charged. “It is known that these groups have beliefs and ideas of jihadists who are seeking to involve Egypt in a new conflict with Israel. This is in addition to the president-elect’s decision to release a number of extremists, some of them facing death sentences… which is spreading extremist ideas again in breach of the peace agreement, something that is not in the public interest.”

There’s no guarantee any of this will last: Anti-Israel incitement has been the norm in Egypt for decades, and anti-Israel sentiment runs deep. But if Sunday’s attack proves the start of a process that leads ordinary Egyptians to reevaluate who their real enemies are, that would be an enormous boon not only for Israel, but for the prospects of a lasting Middle East peace.

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Living With Routine Terror

It appears that what amounts to a military coup has removed the threat of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. That’s a great relief to many who feared that such an Islamist state abutting Hamas-ruled Gaza would overturn the situation that had simplified Israel’s strategic equation for more than 30 years. Whether the new military dictators in Cairo will help maintain the relative stability that existed under Hosni Mubarak is yet to be seen. Another question is whether the rage of frustrated Islamists and the others who fueled the country’s Arab Spring protests will bubble over into a bloody civil war that would also impact Israel.

But while the prospects of such spectacular disasters move to the back burner, Israelis must continue to cope with more routine horrors. This morning, a Gaza-based terror squad crossed Egyptian territory to launch an attack on Israel. They ambushed cars carrying civilian workers with rifle fire, anti-tank weapons and explosives. One Israeli, an Arab from Haifa, was killed. Israeli forces quickly pursued and killed two of the terrorists. The attack was reminiscent of a similar terrorist operation carried out further south near Eilat last year.

Today’s incident is an indication of how dangerous Egyptian Sinai has become in the last year as the regime in Cairo tottered and Mubarak’s successors loosened the blockade of Gaza. But it also shows how perilous Israel’s southern border remains. Since the beginning of the year, 280 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel despite the cease-fire that is supposed to prevail between the Hamas terrorists who run the strip and the Jewish state. Despite this, we are told by apologists for the Palestinians that Hamas has abandoned violence and that it is once again time for Israel to start making more concessions.

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It appears that what amounts to a military coup has removed the threat of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. That’s a great relief to many who feared that such an Islamist state abutting Hamas-ruled Gaza would overturn the situation that had simplified Israel’s strategic equation for more than 30 years. Whether the new military dictators in Cairo will help maintain the relative stability that existed under Hosni Mubarak is yet to be seen. Another question is whether the rage of frustrated Islamists and the others who fueled the country’s Arab Spring protests will bubble over into a bloody civil war that would also impact Israel.

But while the prospects of such spectacular disasters move to the back burner, Israelis must continue to cope with more routine horrors. This morning, a Gaza-based terror squad crossed Egyptian territory to launch an attack on Israel. They ambushed cars carrying civilian workers with rifle fire, anti-tank weapons and explosives. One Israeli, an Arab from Haifa, was killed. Israeli forces quickly pursued and killed two of the terrorists. The attack was reminiscent of a similar terrorist operation carried out further south near Eilat last year.

Today’s incident is an indication of how dangerous Egyptian Sinai has become in the last year as the regime in Cairo tottered and Mubarak’s successors loosened the blockade of Gaza. But it also shows how perilous Israel’s southern border remains. Since the beginning of the year, 280 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel despite the cease-fire that is supposed to prevail between the Hamas terrorists who run the strip and the Jewish state. Despite this, we are told by apologists for the Palestinians that Hamas has abandoned violence and that it is once again time for Israel to start making more concessions.

The problem is not just that the terrorist attacks from Gaza via Egypt and the rocket fire have continued. It is that the West’s attitude is Israel must simply endure them in the way residents of big cities are supposed to get used to high crime rates. Indeed, that is pretty much the way most Israelis regard their southern border. But these pinpricks are a reminder of what would happen if the West Bank were to come under the influence of Hamas following an Israeli withdrawal that those hoping to revive the peace process envision. Only then, it would not be the open spaces of the Negev that would fall under terrorist fire but metropolitan Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

As the Egyptian crisis grows more worrisome, the latest violence in the south is just one more reason why the overwhelming majority of Israelis believe that such a withdrawal–in the absence of a sea change in Palestinian attitudes about peace–would be madness.

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