Friday, August 24, 2012

Beware the Egyptian illusion

Beware the Egyptian illusion

Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, last week surprised all the experts when in one fell swoop he dismissed all his senior security officials, including his defense minister, who up until that point had been the most powerful person in the country. The American and Israeli intelligence agencies were also among those surprised.

At the same time, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper quoted his legal adviser as saying that Morsi was considering amending the Camp David Accords over the issue of Egyptian military presence in Sinai. He explained that the current situation does not ensure Egypt's full sovereignty over the peninsula.

In 1973, the Egyptians managed to pull off a strategic surprise. The cause of this surprise was the erroneous analysis of the situation, known as "the concept," that led then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to declare that there was no way Egypt would launch a war against Israel as it was not in its interests. The harsh blow that was dealt on us sent many of my age-mates to military cemeteries and meant that those who survived have a heightened sense of smell when it comes to blindly relying on "concepts." Now again, there is a waft of a comforting "concept" over our region which may very well blow up in our faces.

All of the recent analyses of the situation rely on one basic assumption — that it is in the Egypt's interest to maintain the peace agreement with Israel. The simple explanation is that the Egyptians need the continued American aid like they need air to breathe. At least that's the thinking inside the box, but that's also the way that dangerous concepts get pulled together, just like the one that left us surprised back then.

The analyses simply ignore the clear statements being made day and night by the new leadership in Egypt, because they do not sit well with the assumption that the peace agreement with Israel is in the Egyptian interest.

Morsi is today faced with the reality of a collapsing economy following the revolution that brought him to power, at the same time as food prices have risen dramatically around the world. Egypt cannot meet its citizens' demand for food and so has to rely on massive imports from abroad as prices soar, and the state coffers are empty. The only way to survive in a Third World country like Egypt when faced with starving hoards is to turn the masses' anger onto an external party. And the easiest external party to turn the masses against, especially if they are hungry, is Israel. This may well be why Morsi sent his legal adviser to announce that the military annex in the Camp David Accords will need to be amended.

In 1955, then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser surprised all the analysts when he signed the Czech-Egyptian arms deal, moving Egypt from Western influence, to Soviet influence. The president then received arms from the Soviet Union which unacceptably upset the balance of power as far as Israel was concerned, along with funding to construct the Aswan Dam, funding which the Americans had held back. Russian President Vladimir Putin is very interested in establishing military bases in the Middle East, similar to the base he is set to lose very soon in Syria. Is there anyone willing to bet that there aren't already talks between Morsi and Putin which will lead to a surprise similar to the one that Nasser pulled off?

Weakening Israel is in the Russian interest because of the natural gas reserves found off the coast of Haifa. These reserves threaten Russia's monopoly on supplying the fuel to Europe and reduces its power to influence their policies.

And we haven't even touched on China, with its policy of taking over Third World countries by strengthening their economies.

Israel must prepare itself that, in addition to the Iranian threat, it may face a situation where Morsi fulfills the declared vision of his movement, i.e. entering into an armed struggle with Israel, after he completes the groundwork. It may take time, but we must not allow ourselves to fall for the sweet illusion, packaged in a polished, shiny, new "concept," and once again be surprised by Egypt.