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Over a quarter-century Israel fought Egypt in the 1948 Independence War, the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1967-1970 War of Attrition, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Since then, for 37 years, Israel and Egypt have not fought. This may have been made possible mainly by the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty; or it may be that Egypt, deterred by having lost the wars and desiring realignment with the West, would have kept the peace in any case.
Given the stark difference between the 1948-1973 epoch and the 1973-2011 epoch, Israel has reacted to the current crisis in Egypt without foolishness—heard elsewhere in the West—about the supposed moderation of the Muslim Brotherhood or its ally Mohammed ElBaradei. Israelis are alarmed across the political spectrum.
Left-of-center Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn writes that “Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who ‘lost’ Egypt…. If [a superpower] abandons its allies the moment they flounder, who would trust it tomorrow?” Another left-of-center Haaretz columnist, Ari Shavit, writes harshly that “Obama’s betrayal of Hosni Mubarak is not just the betrayal of a moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States…. Everyone grasps the message: America’s word is worthless; an alliance with America is unreliable; America has lost it.”
And President Shimon Peres, who not long ago believed in “the New Middle East” and was a central figure in Israel’s dovish turn, said that “We still have great respect for Mubarak. Not everything he did was right, but he worked to keep peace in the Middle East.” And regarding possible developments in Egypt: “A fanatic religious oligarchy is not better than lack of democracy.”
Israelis know that Mubarak’s “peace” (since 1981, when he took over from his assassinated predecessor Anwar Sadat) was cold, that Egypt continued treating Israel as an enemy in international forums, and that its society remained intensely anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic. At the time the crisis broke out last week, there appear to have been only a few hundred Israeli tourists—out of an Israeli population of seven million—in neighboring, officially “friendly” Egypt.
But Israelis also know that, in addition to keeping the guns quiet, Egypt in recent years has acted as a tacit ally against the radical Middle Eastern axis of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Israeli intelligence helped Egypt quash a dangerous Hezbollah espionage ring in 2009. Egypt has reportedly been doing a lot more to stop the smuggling of weapons to Hamas in Gaza.
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