After dealing with Syria in my last post, let’s head southward today, for a quick review of the situation on the Egyptian border.
Israel took the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War, relinquishing it to Egypt against a peace treaty in 1979. On the ground, the Sinai (about 60 000 square kilometers), is a vast poorly-populated desertic area. This has enabled all kinds of traffics to develop over the years, from drugs to women and Sub-Saharan immigrants through weapons destined to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, traffics usually conducted by several powerful local Bedouin tribes.
|Bombing of the Israeli-Egyptian pipeline in Sinai|
Since the fall of the Mubarak regime at the beginning of 2011, the security situation on the ground has worsened. The pipeline transporting gas toward Israel has been blown up 14 times since then (it is now closed for reason we’ll shortly explain). Even worse, the absence of control has permitted terrorists from the Gaza strip to launch attacks on Israel from the Egyptian territory (most notably the August 18th attacks on route 12, who cost 8 Israeli lives), making Israeli retaliations close to impossible (during the same attacks, a couple of Egyptian border guards were caught in crossfire between Israeli soldiers and the commando and subsequently killed, prompting major protests from Cairo).
Facing these new challenges, Israel has taken two main measures:
- -Allowing the Egyptian army to increase its presence in the peninsula, so far strongly restricted under the terms of the 79 peace treaty. It seems to be so far inefficient.
- - Accelerating the building of a security fence along the border. By the way, the last cycle of violence in Gaza was launched by a deadly attack on the construction workers by a Palestinian jihadist group which infiltrated in Egypt before striking.
(A parallel challenge that should be kept in mind is the immigrant traffic from South-Sudan and Eritrea, many of them being kidnapped, tortured or enslaved by Bedouin tribes on their way toward Israel. For an excellent account of this traffic, see the article by Gideon Levy in Haaretz. And for a talk on the current immigration issue, there are articles in most Israeli news website virtually every day)
If all this was not enough, a national threat is emerging next to this rather localized one. As expected by most here, the “Arab spring” has been a pull factor for Islamic parties to take power. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has won 47% of the seats in the Parliament in November 2011, failing to get the absolute majority because of even more radical Muslims, the Salafis. An estimated total of 2/3 to 70% of the members of Parliament is from Islamic parties, with all what it means in terms of Human rights. Obviously, the recent dissolution of this Assembly by the SCAF (supreme council of the Armed forces) is supposed to change the story. It won’t: the army would also have liked to avoid having to deal with a MB president but Morsi was nonetheless elected. The paradox of weak tyrannies is that they somehow have to keep in touch with the people’s will to stay in power. And the people will has been quite clear these past few months: Sharia power. So, if the SCAF is bright enough, it will manage to compromise with the MB in order to keep influence on the economy, defense… if not, they’ll have to directly fight it at some point. In that very hypothetical case, either the MB succeed now through popular revolution to overthrow the SCAF or they are repressed for a few more years but will definitely be the symbol of the opposition to the new regime… until they themselves pick the low-hanging fruit when the time has come.
|Riot in front of the Israeli embassy last September.|
And what is the Muslim Brotherhood position toward Israel? Quite unclear, as usual when it comes to important points in the local political culture. Each time a party official has said that the peace treaty with Israel should and will be “revised”, another one says it won’t (lastly, the newly elected president is said to have held that kind of expression to an government Iranian press agency, though he denies). But first, this video is extremely interesting for what is says on the movement (it’s at the launching of the Presidential campaign. Morsi is not the one who is speaking but he is present and isn’t the least trouble). Then, we have an example of MB government: the Hamas is Gaza is an offshoot of this international Islamic movement. Not to mention its hostility toward Israel, the Hamas has lead a violent, repressive policy toward political opponents, journalists and religious minorities (aka Christians, who make up 8% of the Egyptian population and already suffer from violence from radical Islamic groups) in the Strip since it took power in 2005. Actually, the links between the two groups have been strengthened over the last months, with official visits on both sides. It has even been said, though not officially confirmed, that the MB ordered the Hamas to go on the offensive last week to help winning the election and sending a clear message to Israel. The Hamas indeed usually doesn’t actively participate in the missile launching against the Jewish state, letting more or less passively smaller and hence less responsible groups doing the job, maintain a friend-enemy scheme with the most powerful of theme which could threaten its rule (such as the Islamic Jihad). This time, Hamas did launch missiles on Israel proper.
|Reaping the Israeli flag after the sack of the embassy.|
More troubling, the Egyptian people, though they obviously have other things to think about right now, seem to be very hostile toward the 79 peace treaty, if not toward the existence of Israel. Sadate and Mubarak (almost owing him an Israeli escape when he resigned: defense minister Ehud Barak and member of Knesset Itzhak Herzog were known for publicly supporting the idea) knew what and where their interest was, but since March 2011, more and more Israeli flags have been burnt during demonstrations and the local Israeli embassy has literally been ransacked during a riot in October (since then the diplomats haven’t found anyone willing to let them a new building and so have considerably reduced their activity). Finally, last April, Egypt totally scrapped Israel gas supply by cancelling the contract between the two states. And I’m not even talking about the so-called "Mossad sharks" attacks (!!)...
Moral of the story: you can always make peace with political leaders, but when the people has been so much indoctrinated into hating you (even way after the peace treaty was signed: here is a popular song in the early 00’s), you’ll have a tough time making peace with it, all the more if the original regime is suddenly washed away.