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

Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.
Added 12.06.2018
The depths of hypocrisy of the Republican Party in supporting Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator in Singapore are hard to plumb. This is a party whose leading members adopted the Ostrich Foreign Policy Principle for decades. If you don’t like a country’s government or political and economic system, pretend it does not exist.
Added 12.06.2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken out against China’s strategy of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers, and, more recently, the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island. There are, Mattis warned, “consequences to China ignoring the international community.” But what consequences?
Added 12.06.2018
With a general election approaching in September, Swedish voters are being warned that now it’s their turn to be targeted by Russian interference in the democratic process. According to Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is leading the country’s efforts to counter foreign-influence operations, such interference is very likely, and citizens should be on the lookout for disinformation and fake news.
Added 11.06.2018
Extract: "While the presidency has grown stronger over the years, during the Trump administration Congress has been timid and subordinate. That is because the leaders of the Republican Party – which controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate – are frightened of Trump’s base. They cannot afford to alienate the roughly 30-35% of Americans who passionately back him, ignore his personal transgressions, tolerate his degradation of the country’s civil discourse, favor his brutal treatment of immigrant families, and don’t mind that he is leaving the US almost friendless in the world."
Added 08.06.2018
Has North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un, made a strategic decision to trade away his nuclear program, or is he just engaged in another round of deceptive diplomacy, pretending that he will denuclearize in exchange for material benefits for his impoverished country? This is, perhaps, the key question in the run-up to the summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12. Until then, no one will know the answer, perhaps not even Kim himself.
Added 07.06.2018
Some analysts even project that, before long, Facebook will hold more data on its users than any government. Meanwhile, it makes a lot of money from this data. Its advertising revenues came up to around US$40 billion in 2017 (up 50% from 2016). With Google, it holds an 84% market share in online advertising.
Added 05.06.2018
Roseanne Barr is an American comedian whose fictional TV character of the same name is a working-class Trump supporter. For those who remember the show “All in the Family,” she might be usefully compared to Archie Bunker, the crude proletarian patriarch from Queens, New York. Barr’s show was swiftly canceled late last month by the television network ABC, not for anything her “character” said in her show, but for a tweet in which she described Valerie Jarrett, an African-American former adviser to Barack Obama, as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
Added 04.06.2018
 

When Donald Trump was elected, I, like many others feared what his presidency might do to the country. A year and a half into his term in office, our concerns have been justified. 

Added 01.06.2018
Extract from the article: "While the West’s relative decline is almost inevitable, its economic dysfunction is not. Yet pessimism can be self-fulfilling. Why undertake difficult reforms if a dark future seems preordained? As a result, accepting and anxious pessimists tend to elect governments that duck difficult decisions (witness Germany’s grand coalition), while angry pessimists make matters worse (by voting for Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda or for Brexit, for example). It doesn’t have to be this way. As French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated, bold leaders can succeed with a message of hope, openness, and inclusion, and by promoting a vision of progress based on credible reforms."
Added 30.05.2018
It has been nearly two years since the United Kingdom narrowly voted in favor of leaving the European Union. As the march toward Brexit – formally set for the end of next March – proceeds, fundamental questions about the nature of the future UK-EU relationship remain unanswered. Instead, every time a tough decision must be made in the negotiations in Brussels, British ministers kick the can down the road, or even into the long grass. This is somewhat surprising. Apparently, none of the politicians and newspaper editors who plotted for years to get the UK out of the EU thought much about what would happen if their machinations succeeded.
Added 30.05.2018
Discussions are now underway to establish a system of joint deposit insurance for eurozone banks. Proponents of the scheme, with the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) taking the lead, point out that deposit insurance would avert the danger of a run on banks in times of crisis. While this argument is true, critics emphasize the disparity in risks, owing to the high share of bad loans on the balance sheets of banks in some countries. To address this risk disparity and move ahead with the plan, balance sheets will need to be cleaned up before considering the next step. While the share of bad loans for banks in the stable eurozone countries is just 2%, the most recently published International Monetary Fund statistics, from last April, show a share of 11% for Ireland, 16% for Italy, 40% for Cyprus, and 46% for Greece.
Added 29.05.2018
Trump’s decision cannot be justified by any breach of the agreement on Iran’s part. It is, rather, a return to the old, largely unsuccessful US policy of confrontation with Iran. The only difference this time is that the Trump administration seems determined to go to the brink of war – or even beyond – to get its way. If the administration has any plans for keeping Iran’s nuclear program in check in the absence of the nuclear deal, then it is keeping them a secret. Judging by some of the administration’s rhetoric, it would appear that airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities are on the table. But bombing would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not stop it. Would Trump then consider a massive ground war to occupy the country and topple the regime? We know all too well how that strategy worked the last time it was tried.
Added 28.05.2018
US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel his planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un represents a diplomatic coup for the North Korean leader, and an even bigger victory for China. In the space of just a few months, Kim’s image has gone from that of international pariah to that of thwarted peacemaker.
Added 23.05.2018
The good news is that the United States and China appear to have backed away from the precipice of a trade war. While vague in detail, a May 19 agreement defuses tension and commits to further negotiation. The bad news is that the framework of negotiations is flawed: A deal with any one country will do little to resolve America’s fundamental economic imbalances that have arisen in an interconnected world.
Added 21.05.2018
The cryptocurrency revolution, which started with bitcoin in 2009, claims to be inventing new kinds of money. There are now nearly 2,000 cryptocurrencies, and millions of people worldwide are excited by them. What accounts for this enthusiasm, which so far remains undampened by warnings that the revolution is a sham? One must bear in mind that attempts to reinvent money have a long history. As the sociologist Viviana Zelizer points out in her book The Social Meaning of Money: “Despite the commonsense idea that ‘a dollar is a dollar is a dollar,’ everywhere we look people are constantly creating different kinds of money.” Many of these innovations generate real excitement, at least for a while. As the medium of exchange throughout the world, money, in its various embodiments, is rich in mystique. We tend to measure people’s value by it. It sums things up like nothing else. And yet it may consist of nothing more than pieces of paper that just go round and round in circles of spending. So its value depends on belief and trust in those pieces of paper. One might call it faith.
Added 19.05.2018
The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president followed a familiar script. Police declared the gatherings illegal, and the media downplayed their size. Alexey Navalny, the main organizer and Russia’s de facto opposition leader, was arrested in dramatic fashion, dragged out of a rally in Moscow by police. On May 15, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison. More than 1,600 protesters across the country were beaten and detained.