Feb 22nd 2011

Egypt - Israel Bilateral Relations

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates
On Saturday, February 12 the Egyptian army issued a communiqué reassuring the Egyptian people and the international community of its intention to usher in a civilian government and honor all of Egypt's international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel. Although such a pronouncement provided Israel with some comfort, many Israeli officials and ordinary citizens remain alarmed, perhaps for good reason, about the breathless development of events in Egypt and their mid and long-term implications on Israel and the Arab world. A careful analysis of these events strongly suggests, however, that the Egyptian military remains central to any future political development. Gauging the military conduct and support of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, it would appear that the military will continue to steadfastly safeguard the peace treaty not only because the army feels obligated, but because peace with Israel will continue to serve Egypt's national strategic interests.

There are four major pillars to this argument, and together they form the basis for maintaining and may even improving Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relations, which open up new opportunities for further advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process:

To better appreciate the Egyptian military's commitment to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, it should be recalled that it was Egyptian General Anwar El-Sadat who forged peace with Israel in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The ending of the 1973 war was rather unique as it was engineered by the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to allow Egypt to emerge politically triumphant by preventing the Israelis who were poised to crush the Egyptian third Army. Kissinger argued that another Egyptian defeat would only usher in the next war, and that Egypt, as the leader of the Arab world, must feel victorious and equal to the Israelis in order to come to the negotiating table. Allowing the military to remain in the Sinai at the conclusion of the hostilities, was taken by the Egyptians, as it was intended to, as nothing less than as a military victory which the Egyptian people continue to celebrate. This same peace treaty was steadfastly observed and further strengthened by Sadat's successor and Vice President Hosni Mubarak, an Air Force General who became President following the assassination of Sadat.

This brief history between the two nations suggests four important implications: the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty has been forged, sustained and somewhat institutionalized by military men and there is nothing to indicate that the current military leadership has any reason downgrade, let alone abrogate the treaty. Neither Israel nor Egypt has violated the agreement even once and both militaries have cooperated on a number of levels including intelligence sharing. Moreover, both countries have greatly benefited from the reduced military expenditure resulting from the substantial reduction in the state of military readiness against one another. Finally, considering the enormous efforts it would take to get Egypt out of its current political, social and economic doldrums, it would be at best foolish to renew hostilities with a neighbor in possession of formidable conventional military machine augmented with reportedly the fourth largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. In fact, if anything, the current Egyptian Military High Command looks favorably at the Egyptian peace treaty because it serves Egypt's greater strategic regional interests.

As the military listened to the public's demands, they also realize that the focus of the young revolutionaries was on their own plight-social and political freedom, economic opportunity, better health care and education. The revolutionaries did not seek a scapegoat to blame for their dismal states of being; they did not blame Israel or the United States for their country's failures, and instead pointed the finger at their own leaders-the corruption and the stagnation from within. Here again, unlike many other Arabs who blame Israel, in particular, for all the ills that infect their society, the Egyptians appear to appreciate that peace with Israel as positive. Moreover, 70% of the Egyptian people were born since the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed in 1979, and this majority of the population knows nothing but peace with Israel. Whereas Mubarak has failed the Egyptian people by stifling social, economic and political developments, he has managed to ingrain the peace agreement with Israel in the national psyche of the Egyptian people. After all, the peace was forged following a "military victory," and certainly not a defeat, a legacy that the military in particular wants to preserve. Even the Muslim Brotherhood vowed to keep the peace treaty with Israel should they assume power. Indeed, no revolution can make social, political and economic progress by becoming hostile to its neighbors, especially, in this case, Israel-with whom Egypt has no quarrel. Moreover, the Egyptian revolutionaries fully understood that each country looks after its own national interests, including Israel and the US, and it would have been up the Egyptian authorities to look after the interest of the Egyptian people. The Arab malaise is bred from within, and to change it must also come from the strength, tenacity and will of the Egyptian people. It is in that sense that Egypt might again set an example to be emulated by the rest of the Arab states.

Both Israel and the Egyptian military-which is central in Egyptian politics-share common concerns over Islamic extremism. They have cooperated in the past and will continue to collaborate in the future. Although the Muslim Brotherhood may indeed be an entirely different breed than the Iranian hard core Islamists, and have professed to pursue political pluralism, both Israel and the Egyptian military remain suspicious of the Brotherhood's ultimate intentions. The influence of the Brotherhood on Hamas is significant, and neither Israel nor the Egyptian military see Hamas as a legitimate interlocutor as long as Hamas continues to reject the existence of Israel in principle. It should be further noted that it was the Egyptian military, just as much as much as its Israeli counterpart, who kept tight control over the blockade of Gaza. Moreover, both the Israeli and the Egyptian militaries are concerned over the rise of Islamic extremism altogether, a phenomenon that is not likely to dissipate, if not further intensify, following the Egyptian revolution. To be sure, depending on how the Egyptian revolution evolves, Egypt and Israel have far greater common interests than differences and the Egyptian military in particular is keenly aware of the potential gains and losses. In particular, the Egyptian army would like to maintain excellent relations with its US counterpart and continue to receive the over one billion dollars in military assistance. It would be impossible to maintain either should the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty be undermined in any way.

Finally, what further cements future Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relations is the threat of Iran to become a regional hegemon possibly equipped with nuclear weapons. Iran has been, and will remain, a major concern to both Israel and Egypt and both countries have deep interests in preventing Iran from achieving its goals. Iran's growing influence in Iraq and the de facto takeover of Lebanon by Hezbollah only reinforce Israel and Egypt's concerns. For Egypt in particular, a nuclear Iran could overshadow Egypt's traditional leadership role in the Arab world and might even compel Egypt to pursue its own nuclear program. Neither prospect is attractive. Indeed, the last thing Egypt needs at this juncture is to enter into a nuclear race with Iran or continuously be threatened by Iran surrogates. Israel on the other hand, while enjoying its own nuclear deterrence, wishes to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons not only out of fear that it would neutralized its own weapons, but because it could prevent other Arab states, especially in the Gulf, who would seriously be intimidated by Iran, from striking peace with Israel. Thus, Egypt and Israel have a very strong interest to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambition. For Egypt and Israel, teaming together on this vitally important issue is of a supreme importance to their national security. Egypt, in this particular case, looks at Israel as the bulwark that might eventually delay, if not stop, Iran's nuclear adventure which adds another layer to their bilateral relationship.

The revolution in Egypt is a game changer in many ways and neither Egypt itself nor the Middle East will be the same again. That said, I believe that the Egyptian people in particular will stay the course of peace with Israel because the people's revolution is about internal social, political and economic developments, it is about being free, productive and proud citizens. Maintaining the peace with Israel, under the guidance of the military, will help the young revolutionaries to focus on their critical mission and reach their destination with dignity while knowing that their struggle has only just begun.

Please note that a version of this article was published in the Jerusalem Post on February 18, 2011. 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."