For three decades, Hosni Mubarak tried to undermine the peace process that his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, set in motion. Except for one visit – for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral – he never visited Israel and viciously attacked Israel whenever possible.
He taught his people to despise Israel and, along with Saudi Arabia and others, was a purveyor of Jew-hatred. Egypt was a major publisher of Hitler's Mein Kampf and the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and promoted this poison throughout the Arab world.
On trial in Cairo for crimes against his own people, at least he can savor his legacy of hatred for Jews and Israel, watching the Sinai Peninsula becoming the dagger of his revenge.
He might also remember his accomplices in the US, Europe, and even in Israel who refused to challenge his ruthlessness and his policies. Although an unsavory partner, he was willing to keep minimal contractual agreements with Israel to supply natural gas, as long as the golden eggs from that goose fell into his pockets.
Mubarak played a delicate game of subterfuge regarding Israel. He understood that defeating Israel on the battlefield was not possible; indirect means were more effective.
Allowing the Sinai Peninsula to be used as a transit area for weapons and terrorists, for example, was easy; it provides revenue for Bedouins and Egypt was not held responsible. Israel's interception of the Karine A, a ship filled with weapons for Palestinian terrorists headed for Sinai proved how the system worked. No one blamed Egypt.
Indeed, according to intelligence sources weapons flow freely from Libya, Iran and Sudan through Egypt into Sinai and the Gaza Strip.
Mubarak measured his hostility towards Israel – like other regional dictators – to placate his American and European supporters. But he also needed to pay attention to his domestic rivals, extremist Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, an indigenous Egyptian organization with wide popular support. Cracking down on them was tolerated by the West and the Egyptian power elite as the price of stability.
Heavily dependent on tourism, Egypt needed to maintain an aura of peace; terrorism against domestic targets, especially tourists, was a knife in the heart of Egypt's economy.
Israel went along with Mubarak's charade of peace because it meant no war. Mubarak understood this weakness and used it shrewdly, condemning and undermining Israel and supporting Israel's enemies - called "cold peace."
Sinai an extension of Gaza
Two events changed the game: Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the revolution in Egypt.
With Israel no longer in control of the border area known as the Philadelphia Corridor, Gazans were in direct contact and sometimes conflict with Egypt. Massive tunneling under the border required Egyptian compliance and cooperation; it also meant Egyptian responsibility for trade with Gaza. When Hamas took over, it provided the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist and Jihadist groups with a de facto semi-sovereign territorial base directly on Israel's borders. The Sinai Peninsula became the critical land bridge for terrorists between Egypt and Gaza to launch attacks on Israel.
Once Mubarak was overthrown, therefore, all nominal restraints on terrorists disappeared. Sinai became hostile and lawless territory, controlled by an estimated 350,000 Bedouin who don't consider themselves Egyptians, or under Egypt's authority. A few thousand Egyptian police, their number severely limited by the Camp David Agreements, were and are no match for the Bedouin.
The Sinai has now become an extension of the Gaza Strip with one main difference: It is under Egyptian sovereignty. In order to regain control Egypt will have to deploy a massive number of troops to subdue the Bedouin, Hamas, Islamists, Jihadists, etc. Their hands full with domestic turmoil, it's doubtful they can, or want to do it, since Israel is the primary victim of semi-anarchy.
Israeli leaders who ignored these developments were either grossly incompetent or politically motivated. Once Hamas took over in the Gaza Strip, the imperative of building a fence along the Egyptian border should have been the highest priority. It was not.
Egypt's ability and commitment to supply Israel with natural gas is now in doubt. Infiltration and smuggling are increasing. The vulnerability of this border is the most serious threat to Israel's security today. Egyptian politicians and Islamists are calling for an end to peace treaty with Israel and may soon have the power to abrogate it.
Although Israel has no control over what happens in other countries, it does have the right to protect itself. According to international law, respecting the sovereignty and/or integrity of another country or entity becomes invalid when that country or entity is unable or unwilling to prevent attacks from its territory, or is a sponsor or co-sponsor of attacks.
The first obligation of a government is to protect its citizens. If it cannot, or is willing to do so, it has forfeited its mandate and should resign.
The author is a historian and journalist living in Jerusalem.
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