Egypt: Israeli Interests
The Economist, which knows what goes one inside the heads in Washington and Jerusalem, had on its cover of the issue ending January 7, the following headline: The threat of war in the Middle East. That was three weeks ago. Protestors at Tahrir Square were not in the world’s focus. Nor had the Tunisian President fled.
The Economist’s case was built around the failure of President Obama’s Christmas initiative at Arab-Israeli peacemaking. “There is reason to believe that unless remedial action is taken, 2011 might see the most destructive such war for many years.” Iran’s nuclear ambition; Israel’s implacable opposition to it. The fear that should “a balance-tipping new weapon” be added by Iran and Syria to Hezbollah’s rocket inventory of 50,000, Israel would take military action.
Do the events in Egypt alter these calculations? Only the most reckless would calculate that since the Arab world is preoccupied with its own problems, this may be the moment to settle issues with Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.
Generally wars stoke nationalism which causes people to rally around their leaders. The paradox of the Arab world is that any war involving Israel sends the dictators who form a ring-around Israel scurrying for cover. Their plight would be even more pitiable now when their people are already rising against them for a whole range of reasons. Such is the perversity in the region that Arab dictatorships spell Israeli security – obverse of Wilsonian Liberalism. So, no war now.
What stares Israel in the face is an existential issue: the future of the Peace Treaties with Egypt and Jordan. The existence of these treaties on the other hand further fuels Arab street anger, although foreign policy at the moment appears to have been superceded by issues of freedom and bread.
Israeli and Egyptian intelligence communities and the armed forces have worked closely over the past 30 years, overseen by their common benefactor, the US.
In the current crisis the benefactor seems to have lost its centrality in the process. Hosni Mubarak refused to see President Obama’s personal envoy, Frank Wisner when he sought a second meeting after having delivered a “tough” first massage. The former US ambassador to Egypt evidently suggested a speedier transition than appears to be emerging.
For the time being, the Israeli-Egyptian duet appears to be on the same wavelength, scripting the transition.
Vice President and former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, Defence Minister Marshal Tantawi and Armed Forces Chief, Gen. Sami Annan are the sorts of faces that will ensure continuity in Foreign Policy, Israel’s main concern. But what coalition do they represent? And are they in a position to calm the protesters in Tahrir Square by announcing an early date for Mubarak to give up the “gaddi”?
The September deadline preferred by Mubarak will be seen by the people to be a ruse: it makes Mubarak a self confessed lame duck, which Egypt cannot afford, or someone buying time.
In this context Israeli concession to Egypt that it can position 1,000 troops at Sharm el-Sheikh, is interesting. Apparently, Mubarak has a house there. But even if he were to occupy this house, he cannot move in tomorrow or the day after because packers have to identify items that have to be transported from the presidential palace.
When I called the Indian Ambassador in Cairo he came on the line but seemed preoccupied with urgent business at hand – the safety of 3000 Indians in Egypt. I could not have discussed politics with him on an open line but I doubt if there is any substance in the bilateral relationship that exercises our embassies in any of the Arab countries, except the Gulf States.
Time was when a visit to the imposing India House on the Nile was a treat. The Ambassador would take you on a tour. “That is the sofa occupied by Nehru and Nasser”. No leader of that elevation has occupied the sofa since.
Why this loss of interest in the Arab world? I suppose the end of the cold war made non alignment irrelevant. It turns out that New Delhi’s engagement of the Arab world was part of the non aligned outreach. The deep civilizational links we talk about is a lot of hypocrisy.
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