Last week, a group of terrorists in Sinai killed 16 Egyptian soldiers before launching a failed attack into Israel. And a few days later, the new Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, removed the chief of the armed forces and defense minister, Mohammed Tantawi, along with the army, navy and air force service heads. On the same day, he also cancelled the constitutional addendum restricting presidential powers that Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had imposed last June. These events tell us much about what lies ahead.
Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who won presidential elections, has full executive and legislative authority. He can convene a new constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, without the oversight of the military establishment that has ruled Egypt for six decades.
This means an Islamist constitution. The Brotherhood, the “the mother of all Islamist movements” as Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, puts it, an Islamist organization dating back to 1928, whose leading ideologues, notably Sayyid Qutb, were the precursor of al-Qaeda, will create an Islamist order in Egypt.
The Brotherhood is vehemently anti-American, so expect a slow demise in the alliance into which America poured $60 billion over three decades. Its leader, Muhammad Badi’ said in October 2010 that, “The U.S. is now experiencing the beginning of its end, and is heading towards its demise.”
The Brotherhood is also virulently opposed to Israel’s existence and calls for the rescission of the Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty. Its deputy leader, Rashad al-Bayoumi has described Israel as “enemy entity” and asserted that the existing peace treaty “isn’t binding at all.” Expect Israeli/Egyptian relations - frosty at the best of times - to petrify.
Morsi no longer speaks for the Brotherhood - he resigned on becoming president - but he needn’t: it speaks for itself. And its reaction to the recent terrorist attack, which the Israelis narrowly averted, was to blame it on the Israeli intelligence service “Mossad, which has been seeking to abort the Egyptian revolution.” Hamas, the Palestinian off-shoot of the Brotherhood which controls Gaza and calls in its Charter for the worldwide murder of Jews, took the same line. Its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, stated, “The crime itself and what preceded it confirms Israel’s involvement in one way or another.”
And yet some have speculated that the Egyptian and Israelis - joint victims of the terrorists, but uncomfortable neighbors - might be drawn back into creative alliance. The New York Times referred hopefully to “early signs of cooperation and coordination.”
And, indeed, some will point to the fact that the latest terrorist incident is an embarrassment and setback for both the Brotherhood and Hamas, which had been busy cementing ties. They will note that Egypt has now closed its Gaza crossing and insisted Hamas shut down its tunnels into Sinai. And they will derive comfort form the fact that Morsi has vowed to “impose full control” over Sinai.
Don’t believe it.
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who carried out the latest attack, account for merely a part of the terrorist activities in Sinai or Gaza. The real traffic in men and arms is run by Hamas, which is turning Gaza in Sinai into a launching pad for war with Israel - with Morsi’s help. Last week’s slaughter of Egyptian soldiers did not provide Morsi with the incentive to constrain Hamas, but with the opportunity to purge the senior military leadership that acted as his bridle.
Last year, Israel acceded to Egyptian requests to amend the military annex to the treaty to allow Egypt to station another 2,500 troops in the demilitarized Sinai. Egpyt never filled the quota and nothing changed, except for the worse. Numerous attacks on the oil pipeline to Israel have occurred. A cross-border terror attack last August left left eight Israeli dead and another in June saw a further Israeli killed.
Now, in the wake of the latest outrage, Egyptian figures are calling for a further revision to permit still more troops. But as the failure to seal the Gaza/Egypt border is one of will, not numbers, Israel would be wise to refuse such requests. To do otherwise would be legitimize a remilitarized Sinai without any corresponding security dividend.
Egyptian forces will be brutal with those who attack them, not Israel. That’s why the Obama Administration’s offer to help Egypt reassert control over Sinai will have no practical impact on the general problem.
Instead, the Arab conflict with Israel is developing a new front in Sinai. Consequent border incidents between Israel and Egypt will heighten tensions and perhaps even one day ignite a war. At that point, no one will ask if the peace treaty remains binding. It is already a husk - and has been for some time.
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