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

Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."