The end of March marked the 31st anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. This event constituted one of the high points of a 12-year process, during which Egypt, despite its military inferiority, reshaped the Middle East while precipitating a deep change in Israel's values and conduct.
For the first 20 years of its existence, Israel enjoyed conceptual superiority over the Arabs, derived from a security concept designed under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion in a thought process that began with his famous Seminar in 1947. Israel's conceptual superiority was consolidated because its framework of strategic ideas was more effective and relevant than that of the other side, and thus compensated for Israel's quantitative and sometimes qualitative inferiority. As such, from 1967 until today, Israel has faced no existential military threat.
However, precisely when Israel was at its strongest, and after a decisive victory in the Six-Day War, ideas began bubbling up in Egypt that usurped Israel's conceptual superiority.
The process began in the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in 1970, but it reached a peak and was realized under Anwar Sadat. The Egyptian leadership limited its political goals, adapted its strategy to the country's capabilities and resources, and translated its ideas into an overall comprehensive operational concept that was absorbed at all levels of the military and administration.
The strategic goals were framed as getting the Sinai Peninsula back, opening the Suez Canal to shipping, and realigning Egypt with the U.S. Once adopted, a comprehensive military and diplomatic campaign was launched in pursuit of these goals.
In 1971, Egypt expressed a readiness in principle for a comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal from Sinai, and in 1972 it proposed an interim agreement based on a separation of forces and the reopening of the Suez Canal.
After Israel ignored its initiatives or rejected them, Egypt went to war with limited political objectives and with the goal of renewing the political process. Indeed, in 1974, disengagement agreement similar to that proposed by Egypt two years before was signed.
In 1977, Sadat stunned the world and Israel by coming to Jerusalem, and in 1978 and 1979, the Camp David Accords and the Peace Treaty with Israel were signed. These agreements contained understandings between Egypt and the U.S. linking U.S. financial aid to Egypt with aid to Israel. Thus, in 1982, with the completion of the full Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, Egypt had achieved all the strategic goals it had set for itself 12 years before.
Egypt's effectiveness during that period stemmed from, among other factors, its readiness to pay the heavy ideological, political, military and economic price.
Above and beyond the enormous loss of life and assets in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egypt recognized Israel's existence. In doing so, it conceded, at least temporarily, its leading position in the Arab world and even left the Arab League. It distanced itself from the Palestinian struggle that it had ardently supported since 1948. It cut itself off from the Soviet Union, which was a strategic ally, even before formalizing its relationship with the U.S. It was, of course, these concessions that condemned Sadat to death at the hands of assassins.
Menachem Begin's leadership was important for Egypt's success. However, it's doubtful that he had any real choice, in light of Egypt's conceptual superiority, which set immense historical and diplomatic forces in motion.
This was because Sadat understood that a stable settlement required response to Israel's fundamental interests, and and tangible and symbolic gains. This is why he offered "peace," committed to normalization and agreed to the demilitarization of Sinai. In other words, in certain respects it was actually in Cairo that the ideas that ensured Israel three decades, and counting, of security were shaped.
The writer is the founder and president of the Reut Institute for strategic thought.
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