Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pretext for a New Arab-Israeli War?

Via Real Clear World's listings today comes a report from three Israeli experts who decry the declining tenor of the relationship between Israel and post-Mubarak Egypt.  There's been, of course, lots of hand-wringing since January over the possibility of increased Islamist influence in Egypt's government and the impact that might have on ties with Israel, including the possible abrogation of the 1979 treaty.  (That possibility of increased Islamist influence has now become, IMO, a certainty; though it need not entail abrogating the treaty.)  But this new analysis springboards from the latest attack on Egypt's natural-gas pipeline in the Sinai, which supplies a significant portion of fuel that Israel needs for energy.

The upshot: Egypt's security forces are no longer up to the task of maintaining control over the Sinai.  The natural-gas pipeline is at risk, with consequences of some significance for Israel's energy security, as well as its economy. (As natural-gas supply is reduced, Israel must resort to other, more expensive energy sources.)  Moreover, the Israelis also worry that Hamas and other Palestinian Islamist groups (two of whom they suspect of involvement in the attack on the pipeline) are now having a much easier time routing weapons and other supplies into Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The experts' recommendation:

THE RECENT developments only sharpen the need for Israeli political and security officials to conduct an in-depth examination of the situation in light of a possible strategic shift in relations with Egypt. This would likely require new military and security arrangements on the southern front, quiet for over 30 years. At the same time, the accepted assessment in Israel thus far is that even if relations with Egypt are not as close as they were for most of Mubarak's rule, the new regime in Egypt will continue to adhere to the peace treaty.

Nonetheless, until the new regime stabilizes and as long as the Egyptian security apparatus is occupied primarily with the uprising aftermath in the large cities, the border area shared by Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip will likely continue to be a focus for increased terrorist activity against Israeli targets.

Let's remember that we've been here before: 1967, when, after a period of rising tensions between Israel and Gamal Abdul Nasser's Egypt, the IDF went on the offensive and conquered the Sinai, all the way up to the Suez Canal.  Jewish settlers followed them into the Sinai not too long after - and the removal of Jewish settlements after the 1979 Camp David Accords returned the Sinai to Egypt was fraught with anger and resentment on the part of the settlers.

Don't look for Egypt to be able to restore security in the Sinai in the near future.  (Note, for example, how militants recently stormed an Egyptian town on the Sinai coast, killing seven people.)  Maintaining order in the Egyptian heartlands (i.e., along the Nile Valley and Delta) may already be more than they can handle. 

But at some point, will the Netanyahu government decide that the situation in the Sinai has spun too far out of control for Israel to accept?  Surely Netanyahu knows what sending in Israeli forces to establish "order"  might entail: war with Egypt, along with heightened pressure along all of Israel's borders.

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