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President Mubarak
Photo: Reuters
What does Cairo want?
Are recent tensions with Egypt an indication of worrisome trend?

Something bad is happening with the Egyptians. Have the “seven bad years” in our relationship with them started? (Not that the previous seven years were particularly good.)

 

Let’s start with the rude and undiplomatic outbursts by some Egyptian spokespersons against our foreign minister following her statements regarding Egyptian violations. It is true that Livni could have expressed herself a little differently, even though she was fundamentally right. Her gravest sin was that she forgot that whatever is said at the holy of holies of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee leaks to the outside world within seconds.

 

However, this is not only about the foreign minister. Our defense minister traveled to meet the Egyptian president in order to settle the dispute and present to him the severity of Egyptian violations. Did Mubarak deliberately disparage Barak when he opened up the Rafah crossing to thousands of Palestinians on their way back from Mecca in order to appease Hamas?

 

Israel and also the United States, must not ignore these Egyptian violations, but there is a more fundamental question here: Are we seeing a trend, or is it just typical Egyptian clumsiness? It is clear that if we are indeed talking about a deliberate trend on Cairo’s part, this is a more severe matter.

 

Egypt views itself (and others too view it) as the leader of the Arab world – as a result, it also sets the tone when it comes to ties between the Arab world and Israel. However, in recent years it lost some of this superior position to Saudi Arabia, and this may be one of the reasons why Cairo has been recently adopting more extreme positions vis-à-vis Israel – in order to compete against the Saudis and portray itself as less “tainted” by its peace deal with Israel.

 

However, this is not only about Saudi Arabia. In contradiction to Washington’s declared intention to forge a “coalition of moderates” against Iran, with Egypt being one of its main components, we are witnessing vigorous efforts on Cairo’s part to warm up its ties with Tehran. And if, in order to create a more pleasant atmosphere to that end, it is necessary to sometimes ram Israel in words and deeds, what could be easier?

 

Cold peace still a strategic asset

What is perhaps more worrisome is that Israel’s decline, diplomatically and militarily, in the view of most Arabs states in the wake of the failed Second Lebanon War, and the sense that under the current government Israel is losing its strength, apparently caused the Egyptians to show less restraint in their conduct towards Israel.

 

And still, we should not lose proportion here. “It will be a cold peace,” Moshe Dayan, may he rest in peace, told me at the time, in contradiction to the euphoria that overcame much of the official and unofficial Israel over the peace treaty. And despite this, removing Egypt from the cycle of war against Israel is a hugely important achievement that has stood the test.

 

In other words, peace with Egypt, even if it is lukewarm, cold, or even frozen, is a strategic asset at this time, and we should undertake the maximal efforts to maintain it.

 

Indeed, the Egyptian government has never adopted steps in order to bring Egyptians closer ahead of peace – the opposite is true, and this too should not be ignored. We should remind Egypt on occasion (and it is better if the Americans do it) that for Cairo too, Israel is a first-rate strategic, diplomatic, and economic asset, and that without it, it is doubtful whether Egypt’s comprehensive ties with the US would stand on such solid and stable ground.

 

When it comes to foreign policy, there are no permanent and certain positions, and therefore the mission faced by Israeli diplomacy is to undertake thorough assessments from time to time regarding our ties with other countries. On this front, Egypt is almost at the top of the list.

 

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