The latest events in Egypt raise concerns in Israel, and rightfully so. Egypt is entering a period of uncertainty that will affect us as well. However, the risks are not as great as some of our politicians and commentators predict.
We can divide the risks into two: Tactical-operative and strategic. The tactical threat is high and immediate. It stems from the fact that the Sinai has turned into a wholly uncontrollable region. The vacuum attracts many elements that are hostile to Israel, ranging from Palestinian terrorists from Gaza to various al-Qaeda elements.
We already saw the result of this in the terror attack north of Eilat, and we shall likely see similar attempts in the coming years. This threat requires us to undertake reinforced intelligence preparations, boost our military deployment, and accelerate the construction of the security fence.
I do not underestimate the growing threat or the cost of the required response; however, terror threats along one border or another are not so dramatic. On the other hand, the strategic threat of Egypt turning into an emery state, or even the risk of a military confrontation, is a matter whose likelihood is low and whose materialization, if at all, is remote.
Even if the worst change takes place in Egypt – a Muslim Brotherhood government – such regime would clearly seek to avoid military confrontation with Israel for four reasons.
Firstly, the political reality in Egypt would require any government to first focus on stabilizing the domestic situation. Such regime will likely issue many anti-Israel statements, yet it likely won’t attempt to translate them into action.
Secondly, the major challenge to be faced by any Egyptian regime is the economy. As opposed to states like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Libya or Iran, which could rely on immense oil revenues, Egypt’s situation is different. Stabilizing the economic situation depends on four sources: tourism, the movement of ships through the Suez Canal, gas sales to neighboring countries, and Western investments.
All four aspects would be gravely undermined in case of military tensions vis-à-vis Israel, and any future ruler knows this well.
Thirdly, Egypt depends on American aid, both economically and militarily. A confrontation with Israel would prompt the termination of this vital aid.
Fourthly, after Israel withdrew from Egyptian territory “to the last grain of soil,” there is no real reason for a confrontation. There is a limit to what a future Egyptian regime would be willing to sacrifice in order to help the Palestinians or Hezbollah.
Seemingly, the above explanation may prompt claims that the new regime would seek – as Nasser did in the past – to facilitate a confrontation with Israel in order to regain Egypt’s leading status in the Arab world. However, this argument is anachronistic. The Arab world is so split and Egypt’s strategic weakness is so great that this is not a substantive threat.
I do not claim that things remain the same forever, yet we can assume that in the coming years we shall have to dedicate much attention to the tactical terror threat along the border rather than to war with our southern neighbor. If the government holds different estimates, it would have to significantly boost the defense budget, by much more than the NIS 3 billion it wishes to cut.
We would need large budgets in order to boost the IDF’s fighting force at sea, in the air and on the land, and also to invest billions in increasing our arms stockpiles. Is this necessary, based on an overall assessment? In my view, the answer is no.