Commentary Magazine


Topic: Egypt-Israel peace treaty

U.S. Should Listen to Israel on Egypt

The Obama administration’s indecision on the crisis in Egypt isn’t winning it many friends. While it is taking heat from figures on both the right and the left for not cutting all ties with the military government of Egypt, the same critics have failed to note that it is chipping away at the relationship in significant ways. Yesterday Washington announced that it is halting economic assistance to Cairo to show its distaste for the coup (which it dare not call a coup) and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps as a prelude to cutting off the much larger amounts that go to the military. Given that Egypt’s economy needs help a lot more than its armed forces need the bright and shiny new weapons that it purchases from the United States, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if your goal is to do something to help the Egyptian people.

But even this halfway measure doesn’t go far enough for those who, as Michael Rubin noted earlier, are treating the attempt to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood as another Tiananmen Square. But since the president’s usual cheering section in the press is never comfortable saddling him with the blame for his “lead from behind” style of conducting foreign affairs, a good deal of the responsibility for America’s refusal to work harder for the restoration of the dictatorial government of Mohamed Morsi is falling on a familiar scapegoat: the State of Israel.

As this story in today’s New York Times makes clear, Israel’s efforts to advise both the United States and Europe about the choices available to them in Egypt is not meeting with universal approval. Though, as the paper noted, Israel’s government has wisely refrained from making any public statements about the chaos in Cairo, its effort to lobby the West against cutting the current Egyptian government loose is seen as hypocritical as well as self-interested. But while it may be true the military is a better partner for the Jewish state than the Brotherhood, the same can be said for the United States and the European Union. If, in fact, Israel really is waging a “desperate diplomatic battle” over Egypt, all it is doing is attempting to dispel the lingering illusions about the conflict in that country that could, if unchecked, do as much harm to U.S. concerns as to those of the Jewish state. Ironically, in contrast to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth that falsely claims supporters of Israel are the tail that wags the American dog in conflict with U.S. interests, in this case it is fairly obvious that it is the Israelis reminding Americans to think about what is best for the United States.

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The Obama administration’s indecision on the crisis in Egypt isn’t winning it many friends. While it is taking heat from figures on both the right and the left for not cutting all ties with the military government of Egypt, the same critics have failed to note that it is chipping away at the relationship in significant ways. Yesterday Washington announced that it is halting economic assistance to Cairo to show its distaste for the coup (which it dare not call a coup) and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps as a prelude to cutting off the much larger amounts that go to the military. Given that Egypt’s economy needs help a lot more than its armed forces need the bright and shiny new weapons that it purchases from the United States, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if your goal is to do something to help the Egyptian people.

But even this halfway measure doesn’t go far enough for those who, as Michael Rubin noted earlier, are treating the attempt to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood as another Tiananmen Square. But since the president’s usual cheering section in the press is never comfortable saddling him with the blame for his “lead from behind” style of conducting foreign affairs, a good deal of the responsibility for America’s refusal to work harder for the restoration of the dictatorial government of Mohamed Morsi is falling on a familiar scapegoat: the State of Israel.

As this story in today’s New York Times makes clear, Israel’s efforts to advise both the United States and Europe about the choices available to them in Egypt is not meeting with universal approval. Though, as the paper noted, Israel’s government has wisely refrained from making any public statements about the chaos in Cairo, its effort to lobby the West against cutting the current Egyptian government loose is seen as hypocritical as well as self-interested. But while it may be true the military is a better partner for the Jewish state than the Brotherhood, the same can be said for the United States and the European Union. If, in fact, Israel really is waging a “desperate diplomatic battle” over Egypt, all it is doing is attempting to dispel the lingering illusions about the conflict in that country that could, if unchecked, do as much harm to U.S. concerns as to those of the Jewish state. Ironically, in contrast to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth that falsely claims supporters of Israel are the tail that wags the American dog in conflict with U.S. interests, in this case it is fairly obvious that it is the Israelis reminding Americans to think about what is best for the United States.

Part of the confusion about U.S. aid to Egypt stems from Americans forgetting why they started pouring billions of aid into Cairo’s coffers in the first place: as payment for Anwar Sadat abandoning his country’s alliance with the Soviet Union and making peace with Israel. Israel’s desire to keep this aid alive is seen as purely self-interested since it preserves the cold peace that was signed 34 years ago between the two countries. Israel benefits from the maintenance of the peace treaty. But so does the United States. That is why Congress has agreed to keep aid going to Egypt all of these years. The treaty is a pillar of regional stability that Islamists like the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza seek to undermine. If the Brotherhood were to return to power, the Sinai, which became a hotbed for terror during their year in control of Cairo, could become the spark for new conflict that would undermine everything that Obama has said he is trying to achieve in the Middle East.

Nor should Israel be scapegoated for pointing out that the calls for “restoration” of Egyptian democracy are farcical. Many Americans are still in love with the idea that the Arab Spring could bring democracy to the Muslim world. There is more to democracy than simply holding an election that allows organized totalitarians like the Brotherhood, who actually oppose freedom, to take power that they will never peacefully relinquish. If Israeli diplomats and government officials are telling their Western counterparts that democracy is not currently an option in Egypt it is because they, and not Israel’s detractors, are in touch with reality.

Doing so does not undermine Israel’s status as a genuine democracy any more than it does that of the United States. The choice in Egypt is between the military and the Brotherhood. It is unfortunate that neither option offers any hope for democracy, which would, in theory, be the best thing for both the Egyptians and those who care about regional stability. But wishing this weren’t the case won’t change the facts on the ground.

Contrary to those like Senator Lindsey Graham who claim the coup will make Egypt a “failed state,” the Brotherhood’s façade of democracy won’t keep the country afloat. It is already a failed state in terms of its ability to help its people. The question now is whether it adds to that trouble by becoming an Islamist totalitarian state, a prospect that sent 14 million Egyptians and the military to the streets to fight the Brotherhood.

Israelis should be telling the Obama administration that it is madness to attack the military government in Egypt just at the moment when it is acting to ensure that Islamists will never be able to reverse the decision of Sadat (who was, it should be remembered, assassinated by the Brotherhood) to embrace the West. The violence in Cairo (as well as the Brotherhood attacks on churches throughout Egypt) is troubling. But turning away from that country in the hope that doing so will restore democracy will neither help Egyptians nor enhance American interests. If the Israelis are arguing against such a policy, then perhaps their allies should be listening. 

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The Threat to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty

Given the brazen nature of Hamas’s decision to provoke the latest round of fighting in and around Gaza, it’s difficult for Israel’s critics to claim that it was not justified in seeking to halt a barrage that sent more than 150 missiles into the south of the country. Nor could they claim with a straight face that Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’s so-called military wing and a man responsible for numerous terrorists attacks and murders, is an innocent victim after the Israel Defense Forces took out his car in a deft targeted attack yesterday. But the naysayers are claiming that in opting to defend Israeli citizens and hopefully making it more difficult for Hamas to resume its terrorist offensive, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is effectively destroying his nation’s peace treaty with Egypt.

That’s the conceit of this New York Times article that depicts Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as being forced into a difficult position by Israel. He is, we are told, trying to maintain the peace treaty in order to appease Western aid donors like the United States, but is still obligated by Egyptian public opinion to denounce Israel. The implication of all this is that if the treaty, which is despised by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and extremely unpopular with the Egyptian public, is scrapped, it will be because Netanyahu has chosen to be provocative.

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Given the brazen nature of Hamas’s decision to provoke the latest round of fighting in and around Gaza, it’s difficult for Israel’s critics to claim that it was not justified in seeking to halt a barrage that sent more than 150 missiles into the south of the country. Nor could they claim with a straight face that Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’s so-called military wing and a man responsible for numerous terrorists attacks and murders, is an innocent victim after the Israel Defense Forces took out his car in a deft targeted attack yesterday. But the naysayers are claiming that in opting to defend Israeli citizens and hopefully making it more difficult for Hamas to resume its terrorist offensive, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is effectively destroying his nation’s peace treaty with Egypt.

That’s the conceit of this New York Times article that depicts Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as being forced into a difficult position by Israel. He is, we are told, trying to maintain the peace treaty in order to appease Western aid donors like the United States, but is still obligated by Egyptian public opinion to denounce Israel. The implication of all this is that if the treaty, which is despised by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and extremely unpopular with the Egyptian public, is scrapped, it will be because Netanyahu has chosen to be provocative.

While it is true that the treaty is in peril, placing the blame for this on Israel is so divorced from reality it’s hard to know where to start to debunk this idea. Morsi is no victim in this scenario. If Egypt’s people are clamoring for the spilling of Israeli blood, it is, in no small measure, because his Islamist party has done its best to promote hatred of Israel and Jews to an extent that few in the West appreciate.

As the Times rightly points out, hatred for Israel is the one factor that seems to unite all elements of Egyptian society. Yet to claim that this is because of the “occupation” or the ill treatment of Palestinians is to misread the problem. Egypt is a country where anti-Semitic incitement is a regular element of popular culture and mainstream political discourse. The visceral hate isn’t about where Israel’s borders should be drawn or specific grievances but the result of decades of incitement against Jews.

The absurdity of Egypt’s response to Hamas’s missile firings that provoked Israel’s counter-attack shouldn’t be ignored. After all, Cairo’s response wasn’t a pusillanimous call for both sides to exercise restraint but an implicit endorsement of Hamas’s right to rain down hundreds of deadly rockets deliberately aimed at Israel’s civilian population.

The idea that Israel should refrain from defending its citizens against indiscriminate missile attacks across an internationally recognized border in order to appease Egyptian public opinion is so morally corrupt that it is barely worth spending the time to refute it. But the main point to take away from this discussion is that Egyptian attitudes toward Israel stem from that country’s deep-seated prejudices, not a rational evaluation of Netanyahu’s policies.

The notion that the treaty’s survival depends on Israel’s quiet acceptance of a steady diet of terror attacks is pure fiction.

The Egypt-Israel peace treaty was not a gift from Egypt to Israel. If anything, it was gift to Egypt from Israel and the United States in that it allowed Cairo to opt out of a costly conflict that it had tired of and rewarded it with an annual bribe in the form of billions of dollars of American taxpayer cash. For decades the Mubarak regime profited from the treaty, but compensated for its heresy against Arab nationalist ideology by allowing anti-Semitism to thrive in the country’s media and popular culture.

Morsi and the Egyptian army are uneasy bedfellows in the current government, but both know that an outright repudiation of the treaty would be a costly error. Since relations with Israel were already ice cold under Mubarak, it has been difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood government to find ways to make them even colder. Morsi is appeasing domestic opinion by recalling his ambassador to Israel and publicly backing Hamas. But he is also being careful not to allow the Gaza terrorist group — which is formally allied with Morsi’s political party — to compromise his freedom of action. Thus, he has not re-opened the terrorist smuggling tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza.

If the day comes when Morsi decides he doesn’t need American money anymore, you can bet he may cancel the treaty with Israel even if his country’s military is petrified at the thought of being forced to face off against the IDF. Which is why the preservation of a treaty whose main contemporary purpose is to serve as a rationale for U.S. aid to Egypt isn’t likely to be affected by anything Israel does in Gaza. The real threat to the treaty comes from a culture of Jew hatred, not Israeli self-defense.

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What Egypt Wants: More U.S. Appeasement

Say this for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: he isn’t short of nerve. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has shoved aside the military and now presides over the most populous Arab nation with what appear to be few checks on his power. That gives him the confidence to tell the United States it must accept his Islamist government on its own terms and throw Israel under the bus. But it doesn’t mean he wants the American gravy train that funnels $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government to stop.

Morsi sat down with the New York Times for an interview that was published today and the portrait it paints of the Egyptian leader is one of a man who seems to have a fairly low opinion of President Obama. Rather than embrace an American leader who went out of his way to seek to win the heart of the Muslim world, Morsi thinks Obama needs to prove to Egyptians that he deserves to go on funding what is now an Islamist government. If that means accepting an Egypt that allows mobs to sack the U.S. embassy in Cairo before finally stepping in to halt the carnage, the Americans will have to like it or lump it. This attitude prompted even President Obama to say he wasn’t sure whether Egypt is an ally anymore (technically, it still is). But Morsi made it clear to the Times he’s going to be the one dictating the terms of the relationship, not the country that is continuing to fund Egypt. Even more important, by demanding that the Americans “must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,” Morsi laid down a marker that ensures that the West must either bow to Islamist sensibilities or face a continuance of outbreaks of violence like the ones we have seen the last two weeks.

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Say this for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: he isn’t short of nerve. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has shoved aside the military and now presides over the most populous Arab nation with what appear to be few checks on his power. That gives him the confidence to tell the United States it must accept his Islamist government on its own terms and throw Israel under the bus. But it doesn’t mean he wants the American gravy train that funnels $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government to stop.

Morsi sat down with the New York Times for an interview that was published today and the portrait it paints of the Egyptian leader is one of a man who seems to have a fairly low opinion of President Obama. Rather than embrace an American leader who went out of his way to seek to win the heart of the Muslim world, Morsi thinks Obama needs to prove to Egyptians that he deserves to go on funding what is now an Islamist government. If that means accepting an Egypt that allows mobs to sack the U.S. embassy in Cairo before finally stepping in to halt the carnage, the Americans will have to like it or lump it. This attitude prompted even President Obama to say he wasn’t sure whether Egypt is an ally anymore (technically, it still is). But Morsi made it clear to the Times he’s going to be the one dictating the terms of the relationship, not the country that is continuing to fund Egypt. Even more important, by demanding that the Americans “must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,” Morsi laid down a marker that ensures that the West must either bow to Islamist sensibilities or face a continuance of outbreaks of violence like the ones we have seen the last two weeks.

Morsi shouldn’t be blamed for thinking he can get away with disrespect for the United States. In the last month, the Obama administration agreed to forgive part of Egypt’s debt and renewed aid as part of an effort to stabilize a nation that has gone from being a reliable ally under Hosni Mubarak to one that is not afraid to flaunt its friendship for Iran. Morsi responded by stalling (“We took our time”) before eventually shooing rioters out of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Though that earned him an icy phone conversation with President Obama, he seems to still think he can set the terms of engagement between the two countries without any fear that Washington will pull the plug on aid.

When he tells the Times that Americans shouldn’t judge Egyptians by Western standards, what he is saying is that if Islamist mobs choose to rampage against embassies or demand the abridgement of free speech elsewhere, the U.S. must “respect” these values or face the consequences. While Morsi complains about videos that show disrespect to their religion, the Egyptian media is a cesspool of anti-Semitic and anti-Christian propaganda. President Obama is right. This isn’t an alliance. Under these circumstances it is something more akin to criminal extortion than friendship, no matter how you define that word.

On one other key point, Morsi is just as shameless. He says that if the United States wants Egypt to maintain the peace treaty it signed in 1979 with Israel, it must force the Jewish state to give self-rule to the Palestinians. While the Camp David Accords did include provisions about autonomy for the Palestinians, he ignores the fact that the 1993 Oslo agreement actually gave the Palestinians autonomy (the treaty with Egypt said nothing about an independent Palestinian state) but that Israel has gotten terror rather than peace in exchange for these concessions. More to the point, under Morsi, Egypt has allowed the Sinai to become a war zone as the latest cross-border attack on Friday proved. Though the Mubarak regime was often unhelpful to the cause of peace, the Morsi government’s ties with Hamas constitute a standing obstacle to any progress as well as a threat of more violence coming from the Sinai.

Having studied here in the 1980s, Morsi thinks he knows America. But his contempt for Western culture is such that he believes that he and other Islamists can dictate terms to the United States with impunity. President Obama’s attempt to win the hearts of minds of the Muslim world failed. But Morsi’s contempt is such that he believes he can demand more appeasement. Morsi says Egypt won’t live by American rules but he seems to think that the U.S. must accept his dictates. Given the refusal of the Obama administration to make him pay a price for this arrogance, there’s no reason for him think that he can’t get away with it.

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