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Is the Israel Egypt Peace Treaty in Jeopardy?

September 1, 2012

by Avi Melamed

The calls in Egypt today to revise and even to abolish the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty have grabbed the headlines.  Is the Treaty in danger?  Will it be abolished?  From my analysis the answer is no.  What follows is my reasoning.

The main characteristic defining the atmosphere in Egypt today is what I have labeled “political fever.”  More than 20 Egyptians have announced their intention to run for president and dozens of political parties have been formed in the wake of the Mubarak government’s demise.

At the same time contemporary Egypt faces enormous challenges.  The most important of these involves their anemic economy which is on the verge of bankruptcy.  It is not at all clear whether any of these people or parties really have a plan to address, or the ability to solve, the problems of Egypt.  Therefore, some parties and aspirant presidential candidates have chosen to play the safe card by arousing anti-Israel sentiment hoping to gain the hearts and votes of the Egyptian public.

A number of candidates and parties have called for revising the Peace Treaty.   Some have called for amending it – for example – abolishing Egypt’s agreement to supply natural gas to Israel – an agreement that annually pours in hundreds of millions of dollars into Egypt’s hard-pressed economy.  Certain voices have even advocated abolishing the agreement completely.

One of the loudest in this regard is the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.  After the downfall of the Mubarak regime The Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt established a political party called Freedom and Justice (Hizb al-Horriya W Alaadalain Arabic).  This party will clearly be a major player in Egyptian politics.

It is interesting to note that within the Muslim Brotherhood there is an emerging generational division.  The old guard of the party continues to propound their message “Islam is the solution” – which has been their slogan since inception.  However, the Brotherhood’s younger members, months ago sensing the upcoming events, began to urge the older leadership to eschew that slogan and develop a more creative approach to Egypt’s social and economic problems.  Theological answers, this cohort has argued, are of limited value in addressing the current difficulties.

In this regard, see the article written by Mamoun Fandi – a well-known and widely respected Egyptian Professor, published on May 29, 2011 in the leading Arabic newspaper, Asharq Al Awsat entitled Why are the Muslim Brotherhood not interested in the Position of the President?”   (any translation mechanism you have on your computer will enable you to get the main points of the article even if it is not a perfect translation.)

I quote from professor Fendi:  “…….By criticizing the peace agreement, The Muslim Brotherhood wants to gain moral superiority.  By sitting in the critic’s seat, they hope to gain popularity on TV instead of getting close to serious social and political responsibility….The president of Egypt must deal with unemployment, Egypt’s international debts and other regional issues.  It all requires policy and planning. Up until know, we know nothing about the Muslim Brotherhood movement’s skills and ability regarding those issues…”

The August 18 terror attack in the south of Israel that resulted in the killing of eight Israelis also produced deaths among Egyptian Military personnel.  Israel was condemned by Egyptian authorities who accused Israel as the party responsible for the bloodshed.   Israel provided irrefutable evidence that the Egyptian soldiers were slain by the terrorist attackers that launched the attack from the Egyptian side of the border Link to Hebrew article and Link to English article.  Regrettably – as happens quite often in the Middle East, facts are not so relevant, especially when Israel is the issue – and a number of political parties in Egypt and most of the presidential aspirants sought to exploit the situation for their own agendas by raising into question the Peace Treaty.

These voices, coming from different parts of Egypt, it should be emphasized, are neither to be ignored nor underestimated.  But – at the same time – their importance should not be seen as hegemonic.  What is called for is a sense of perspective.

First, it is important to point out that the call in Egypt for abolishing the Peace Treaty with Israel is not new.  They have been present since the signing of the agreement thirty-two years ago.   Most often it has been intellectuals and members of white-collar professions such as doctors, lawyers, architects, etc. that have challenged the agreement.  They have failed in their efforts to abolish the treaty; however, they have successfully prevented the developing of close relations.  These circles reject the concept known as “Normalization” (Tatbi’ in Arabic) and have contributed to the “cold peace” between the two countries.

Second, it must be understood that the revolution in Egypt was launched and carried out largely by young people who did not call for tearing up the Peace Treaty – indeed their lexicon of grievances virtually ignored Israel completely. The protest movement demanded a dignified future in terms of employment, housing, medical services, education but not – and I repeat not – the abolition of the Peace Treaty.

Many Egyptians know that Egypt’s challenges will not be solved by abolishing the peace agreement, or wiping Israel off the map.  In fact, many Egyptians understand that the exact opposite is true.

Many Egyptians understand that the Peace Treaty with Israel is a strategic asset for Egypt.

Here is an example:  The Egyptian academic Ahmad Lashin published an article on August 25, 2011 in the leading Arabic news portal, Elaph, entitled “The Radical Islam Groups and the Danger of a Radical Islamic Entity in the Sinai Peninsula.”  (the link is in Arabic  but any translation mechanism you have on your computer will enable you to get the main points of the article even if it is not a perfect translation.)

Lashin concludes his article as follows:  “Ordinary people, who are not members of any political party, chose to stand at the Square of Liberation in Cairo.  Ordinary people, including some army officers, sacrificed their lives in the name of the revolution.   And they do not want their children to be used as cannon-fodder for the next war……These people rebelled because they want to live in dignity and in peace, they want to enjoy rights without fear. They do not want to be used and manipulated by those who preach blood and terror and praise the concept of the “sacred state” (one that is based upon the Radical Islamic interpretation of the Islamic law).

Third, on Friday, August 26, 2011 the Muslim world commemorated “Al-Quds Day.”  Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.  The day, whose theme is animosity towards Israel and calls for its destruction, is characterized by speeches, mass marches, demonstrations and militant rhetoric.

This year, as in the past, the President of Iran set the most militant tone.

But what is of singular importance is that throughout the Arab world, this year, his speech and Al-Quds Day was essentially ignored.

The call for a “One Million March” in Egypt ended up as a demonstration of several hundred at most across from the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

The low turnout, however, did not prevent the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah from delivering a speech that announced that “Egypt is making a strategic shift.”   What Nasrallah meant was that Egypt will abolish the peace agreement with Israel.

But the truth is that Nasrallah’s announcement indicates the exact opposite – that Egypt is not making that strategic shift.

This analysis is supported by the Egyptian journalist Ahmed Osman in an article that was published in leading Arab newspaper Ashark al Awsat on September 1, 2011 entitled “Egypt Refuses to Sacrifice Sinai to save Assad’s Rule.”   (the link is in Arabic, but any translation mechanism you have on your computer will enable you to get the main points of the article even if it is not a perfect translation.)

Hassan Nasrallah is a master of psychology and in the art of “the spin.”   Through that statement he is implementing a central behavioral code that is deeply rooted in Shiite belief – Deception or in Arabic, Huda’a.   The code is simple – reality is not relevant.  Present what you want people to believe, present it time and again, and eventually it will be accepted as reality.

A fascinating article on the subject of Huda’a was just recently published by Dr. Mona Fayad, a Lebanese Shiite scholar who received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris and currently teaches psychology at the University of Beirut.  The article entitled “Is the Shiite person afraid OF himself and FOR himself? was published on August 29, 2011 on an old and highly-regarded website created and run by Arab liberals and thinkers located in Paris called Middle East Transparent or ME Transparent.   In this piece she explains the roots and reasons for what she describes as “the denial of reality” by “A person (she hints is Nasrallah) or A Party (she hints is Hezbollah).”

Click here for the link to the article in its entirety Arabic (any translation mechanism you have on your computer will enable you to get the main points of the article even if it is not a perfect translation).

Nasrallah, and his master, the Iranian regime, have implemented Huad’a on different occasions.

Fortunately, this time, as well as in the past, the majority of the Arab world spurned Nasrallah.

For example, Nasrallah described the outcome of the 2006 War with Israel as a “divine triumph” for Hezbollah.  Arabs, and mostly the Lebanese, therefore, refer to Nasrallah sarcastically as “the Lord of the Divine Party.”

Moreover, when the events broke out in the Arab world, the Iranian government rushed to announce that the events reflected the triumph of the Iranian Islamic revolution.  Arabs looked at this announcement with disdain.

The recent events in the Arab world specifically reflect the rejection of the ideals of the Iranian revolution.  The events signal the desire of Arabs to have a political model that is the antithesis of the political model of the Iranian Islamic revolution.

The following article published in the leading on-line Arabic news portal Elaph by Nizar Jaf on August 27, 2011 gives us insight into the Iranian’s fear of “the Arab Spring” blossoming in their borders.  The article is called The Big Spring will Take Place in Tehran.”(any translation mechanism you have on your computer will enable you to get the main points of the article even if it is not a perfect translation).

Fourth, despite a long history of a tense relationship, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have recently become allies.  The main reason for this alliance is the increasing instability in the region that is encouraged and supported by the Iranian government as part of its effort to become a regional superpower.  (You can read more about the Iranian’s efforts to increase instability in my article entitled: “Masters of Chaos: The Iranian Mullah Regime.” ).   The fact that the Egyptians are losing control in the Sinai Peninsula deeply disturbs the Saudis.  Saudi Arabia is facing the threat of terrorism from its southern neighbor Yemen, as well as from within its own borders, including the activity of the Hezbollah branch in the eastern part of Saudi   Arabia.  The establishment of a radical Islamic terror entity in the Sinai Peninsula, a stone’s throw from the shore of Saudi Arabia, increases the threat to Saudi Arabia’s security.

As far as the Saudis are concerned – stability is the name of the game and stability must be maintained.  In their view, the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt contributes to stability.  Abolishing the Peace Treaty would play into the hands of the Iranians and would seriously damage stability.

Fifth, the current Saudi-Egyptian alliance is crucial for Egypt.  Egypt’s economy is on the verge of bankruptcy and the money the Saudis are streaming into Egypt is keeping the Egyptian economy from totally collapsing.

However, in the Middle East everything has a price.  In return for the money they are pumping into Egypt, the Saudis expect Egypt to restore their sovereignty in the Sinai Peninsula – the sooner the better – and to avoid events that could endanger the Saudi’s interests.

And Egypt is keenly aware of its dependence on Saudi support.

Here is an example:   Shortly after the revolution in Egypt, there were some signals coming out of Egypt allegedly hinting that Egypt was willing to review its relationship with Iran.  The Saudis were not pleased.  The Egyptian Prime Minister urgently flew to Saudi Arabia to make it clear that nothing had changed in Egypt’s position vis a vis the Iranians.

Sixth, the international community, and obviously the United States, would not look favorably upon the abolishment of the Peace Treaty.  It is important to emphasize that Egypt’s dependence on the support of the international community, and mostly the US, is deepening.

Egypt has little chance of successfully meeting its enormous internal challenges without foreign support.  Abolishing the Peace Treaty with Israel would inevitably result in the loss of  foreign aid from the US as well other Western nations.

In addition to internal challenges, one external threat is particularly worth mentioning and it relates to Egypt’s relationship with the US.  Some African states are demanding that the agreement concerning the split of the water from the Nile River be revised in a way that will decrease the quota of water Egypt receives today.  As far as Egypt is concerned the Nile water is a “red line.”  Egypt already made it very clear that any attempt to redistribute the water quotas will lead to a fierce Egyptian reaction – including a military one if needed.

Egypt has a large and powerful army that is mostly based upon Western and US weapon systems. Abolishing the Peace Treaty with Israel would inevitably lead to a severe American reaction that would focus on cutting or even totally halting their military support of Egypt.  A weakened military capability would decrease Egypt’s position when the issue of the Nile water quotas is challenged by the African countries.

In closing – for more than thirty-years the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt has endured many challenges and turbulences and has survived.  Over the past thirty-years various events resulted in mutually agreed upon revisions to the agreement and further consensual amendments to the treaty should not be discounted.

However, we must remind ourselves that the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty serves the major strategic interests of the two States – those interests have not changed, and in fact they have become even more relevant.  Therefore, in my view, changes or modifications to the Egypt Israeli Peace Treaty that will endanger the strategic interests of the two states is not a reasonable scenario for the foreseeable future.

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