Any interpretation of events in Egypt needs to be done with care, particularly since peace is a strategic asset for both that country and Israel, and commentary offered carelessly by an Israeli public figure or army general is liable to harm their peace agreement. It must be recalled that 82 million persons reside in Egypt, most of them under difficult economic circumstances, and peace with that country is founded upon four sources of revenue: tourism, free passage through the Suez Canal, oil production facilities located close to the canal, and American economic assistance and jobs in security-related industries established thanks to that assistance.
The Egyptian people have a character unlike that of other Arab peoples in the region. The Egyptians are unlike the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or Jordan; nor are they like the Shiites in Lebanon. This is a proud, modest people which has never been in the thrall of religious fanaticism, despite the Islamic revolutions that have swept the region. Thus, the prospect that Egypt will join the so-called axis of evil whose base is Iran is slight. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power under the cover of democratic elections - it is not an organization that can be likened to Hamas. Religious enthusiasm does not spawn political developments in Egypt which can be comparable to those prompted elsewhere in the Arab world.
Egyptian security forces are strong and numerous; the power of mass demonstrations is actually a drop in the ocean compared to that represented by these elements. So long as the security forces heed the authority of the ruling regime in Egypt, chances of a revolution are small.
However, this wave of protest has created a situation in which that regime will have to listen to the people, and significantly alter its socioeconomic agenda. The situation in which the upper stratum lives a life of leisure, and wealth while at least half of the population dwells in indigence and hunger, and the fact that many citizens actually live in cemeteries or in ramshackle domiciles - all of that will have to change.
The change must be gradual. For this reason, I believe the decision of Egypt's president not to quit immediately was correct. Hosni Mubarak should lead the transition to the September elections, so as to allow the dissenting masses to organize for the vote and prevent the "democratic" rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Chaos in Egypt is liable to spill over our own border with that country, particularly with regard to the flow of refugees from Africa; still more worrisome is Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. Things I said in the past regarding the Israel Defense Force's lack of control along that stretch of the border are more germane than ever today.
Some view the possibility of an "open border" between Gaza and Egypt as the start of a process by which Gaza will become in essence attached to that country. While this might be a good solution for Israel, I doubt that it is a realistic possibility, since it is actually against the interest of both sides - of the Egyptians and Gaza's population.
The State of Israel in general, and the IDF in particular, need to be attentive to circumstances in Egypt, without taking steps to intervene. Our efforts to stave off infiltrators must be stepped up, and we should be ready to take control of the Philadelphi strip along the Egypt-Gaza border, but without causing harm to Egypt's security forces.
Also, the State of Israel should allow several Egyptian army battalions to enter Sinai (in a way that deviates from the peace agreement with Egypt, but in accord with American guarantees that Egyptian forces will withdraw when they complete their mission, or when Israel demands a pullback ). Such deployment would strengthen Egypt's control of Sinai, and would preempt actions taken by Hamas people and Bedouin, who currently do whatever they want there.
Maj. Gen. (res. ) Dr. Yom-Tov Samia served as head of the IDF Southern Command.
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