Friday, August 17, 2012

Tough tests ahead for Israel-Egypt peace

Tough tests ahead for Israel-Egypt peace

Dan Margalit

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta did not hide the radiance on his face when he returned to Washington a few weeks ago with the knowledge that the relationship between Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi was sound and functioning efficiently. A few weeks later, he was embarrassed to , along with the entire American (and Israeli) defense and intelligence establishments, that Morsi had dismissed Tantawi.

Should President Barack Obama adopt Morsi's habits and immediately fire Panetta? In Egypt, people have been dismissed in recent days for lesser errors. But Panetta is not alone. Where was the intelligence of the world's greatest superpower? Although Egypt is not a democracy, it is also not a closed society. The wind of the Muslim Brotherhood is blowing over the Nile, but there are also other ripples. But these were not noticed by the West.

The Americans did not foresee the dramatic turn because they are prisoners to a concept. They do not understand that their lovely constitution and democracy are not applicable in other parts of the world. The ballot does not cure everything. This error has been repeated constantly. Didn't most foreign governments pressure Israel to participate in the Palestinian elections? The result has left its mark in the Israeli arena, and no one knows when it will fade away.

The concept has been involved in a line of U.S. Middle East policies, most importantly in Egypt. Obama turned his back on ally Hosni Mubarak and walked hand in hand with Tantawi. Then Obama transferred his support to Morsi and even promised to increase aid to his regime.

How much has Israel's view of Egypt, with which there has been peace since 1979, changed? When it became clear that Tantawi would become Mubrak's replacement, there was concern in Jerusalem. Among Egyptian officials, Tantawi was the most chilly toward Israel, detached from all contact with it. A year and a half passed, during which Israeli officials came to view Tantawi differently. Not because Tantawi changed his attitude toward Israel, but rather because Israel saw that there were no alternatives. Israel therefore threw its hopes on Tantawi.

The peace between Israel and Egypt will hold, but there will be tougher tests than in the past. When will Morsi withdraw the troops from Sinai that he sent there with Israeli consent? Will he open the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip? How hard will he fight Bedouin tribes in Sinai if terrorists there only attack Israelis, and not Egyptian soldiers? And how will he respond if Israel, using its right to self-defense, strikes terrorists in desert areas under Egyptian sovereignty?

The framework of peace will last for a long time. It has already held for 33 years. There will, however, be a price. Maintaining the peace with Egypt will increase Israel's dependence on America.