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.