Latest developments highlight the tenuousness of the peace treaty between the two countries
The diplomatic flare-up between Cairo and Tel Aviv over Israel's killing of Egyptian security officers who were chasing down militants in the Sinai Peninsula may have been dampened for now, but it has served to highlight the tenuousness of the Camp David Peace Treaty in the aftermath of Egypt's popular uprising. The incident, for which Israel initially blamed a suicide bomber, provoked fury among ordinary Egyptians who even at the calmest of times readily admit there is little love lost between them and their supposed Israeli allies.
Thousands gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the Israeli Consulate in Alexandria holding aloft photographs of the late Jamal Abdul Nasser while for the first time the Egyptian military refrained from intervening.Demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the cancellation of the treaty, determined youths in both cities managed to remove the Israeli flag from atop the embassy and consulate and replaced it with the Egyptian standard. A smaller hard core called for a million-man march to the Rafah crossing to Gaza and military training to defend Sinai from Israeli incursions.
Unfortunately, several tarnished their cause by chanting racist slogans against Jews, many of which are fervent backers of the Palestinian cause and have risked their lives on boats attempting to break Israel's siege on Gaza. It was a similar story back in the day when Nasser was in charge. Following Operation Susannah (better known as the Lavon Affair) -- consisting of attacks by a handful of Egyptian -Jewish Zionists on Western interests for the purposes of implicating Egypt -- all Egyptian Jews and, by extension, all foreigners were "encouraged" to leave.
In recent days, Egyptian presidential hopefuls and politicians have been falling over themselves to condemn the Israeli actions. A joint statement put out by former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa together with the leaders of such disparate parties as the Muslim Brotherhood, Ayman Nour's Ghad and the Wafd characterized the killings "as an example of Israel's arrogance and racism supported by America."
The interim government has been similarly tough. Threatening to recall the Egyptian ambassador from Israel, it demanded a written apology from the Israeli authorities, compensation for the victims' families -- and, most importantly, it has frozen the clause in the treaty that puts restrictions on the numbers of Egyptian soldiers stationed in the eastern Sinai and wants that stipulation renegotiated.
The reality is that most Egyptians, at least the ones that I've spoken with, want Camp David to be shredded as it doesn't reflect the people's true sentiments. In the first place, Egyptian sympathies lie with the Palestinians who are as far from getting their own state as they ever were; some have expressed to me their shame that their country closed its border to the residents of Gaza even as they were being bombed on the say-so of Tel Aviv.
Secondly, they are still seething that their former President Hosni Mubarak appeared to put US and Israeli interests above their own and those of the Palestinians to the extent of selling gas to Israel at prices lower than production costs. A few have complained to me that while Egyptians needed permits to visit some Red Sea resorts, Israeli tourists were heartily welcomed and encouraged to treat towns like Taba or Sharm El-Sheikh as their own party grounds.
That said I've never actually met an Egyptian man or woman who is eager for Egyptian forces to take on the IDF. There is currently little to no appetite for all-out war with Israel in the country; no one is keen to send their sons to a front line -- just as well as any conflict with Israel would automatically involve the US and its allies on Israel's side and moreover, Israel's US-made weaponry is superior to the American-manufactured weapons available to be purchased by Egypt. Conflict would also signal the death of Egypt's economy that has been gasping for air since the revolution.
In essence, they want to be neighbors who shun good mornings over the fence; they want Israel to mind its own business and stay out of theirs. That isn't to say that if flashpoints between the two chilly "allies" occur in the future, when national pride may enter the equation, the overall mood won't change. The danger is that Egypt's armed forces would then be bound to take their marching orders from the street else risk clashes between the people and the army.
Conversely, the Benjamin Netanyahu-led government has proved its eagerness to protect the status quo with a swift verbal apology delivered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and its acceptance of a joint Israeli-Egyptian probe into the incident. Contrast this with the offhand way Turkey was treated in the aftermath of Israel's commando attack on the Turkish vessel the Mavi Marmara and the importance with which Israeli authorities hold Egypt's "friendship" becomes clear.
It's interesting, too, that Israeli columnists have overwhelmingly criticized their own government for condemning the Egyptian military as being unable to preserve security throughout eastern Sinai. Camp David boosts Israel's legitimacy in the area and if it is quashed, it's more than likely that Jordan would cancel their own peace treaty with Israel, leaving Israelis out in the cold.
However, if and when Israel decides its alliance with Egypt is a lost cause there may be danger looming. It's no secret that Israelis covet the Sinai for its oil and gas and still feel emotional about having to return Sharm El-Sheikh that once inspired Israeli songwriters.
As long ago as 1982, Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist at one time attached to the Foreign Ministry wrote: "Israel will not unilaterally break the treaty...unless it is very hard-pressed economically and politically and Egypt provides Israel with the excuse to take the Sinai back into our hands for the fourth time in our short history. What is left, therefore, is the indirect option. The economic situation in Egypt, the nature of the regime and its pan-Arab policy will bring about a situation after April 1982 in which Israel will be forced to act directly or indirectly in order to regain control over Sinai as a strategic, economic and energy reserve for the long run."
I will leave you to mull over that rather unpalatable food for thought.