Israel Must Act Quickly to End the Crisis With Egypt

This is a crisis that, if not solved immediately and wisely, may dictate the nature of the countries’ relationship down the road.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The first crisis between Israel and Egypt since the fall of the Mubarak regime is now laid before us. A crisis that, if not solved immediately and wisely, may dictate the nature of the countries’ relationship down the road. Egypt’s decision to recall its ambassador to Israel seems exaggerated, especially in light of a terror attack which most Israelis see as a direct result of Egyptian security negligence in the Sinai Peninsula. But things look much different on the Egyptian side. A message from the special committee set up by Egyptian Prime Minister Isam Sharaf to investigate the recent killing of Egyptian policemen by the IDF indicates that Egypt was deeply hurt by the killings, as well as by the remarks of top Israeli leaders who leveled accusations at Egypt for not doing enough to prevent the attacks, to secure Egyptian control in Sinai, and that during Mubarak’s rule, security in region was much stronger.

Egypt is now demanding both a quick and meticulous investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of its soldiers as well as an apology from Israel regarding its “hasty and irresponsible remarks that indicate a lack of wisdom”. The official Egyptian response is not disconnected from that of its public, which demonstrated Friday in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, and attacked the Israeli consulate in Alexandria, using the current regime’s sensitivity to the public’s mood its advantage. Meanwhile, several Egyptian officials harshly condemned the killings, and military leaders hinted that Israel is seeking to take control over several kilometers of the security zone inside the Sinai Peninsula.

An Egyptian soldier stands guard on a watch tower on the border between Israel and Egypt, some 30 km (19 miles) north of Eilat. Credit: Reuters

The Egyptian government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which are attempting to completely move past the Mubarak era and prove their ability to govern, are especially sensitive to comparisons with the deposed Egyptian leader. In its message, the government clarified that it is and will continue to do all it can to prevent infiltration into Israel, and that it will continue fighting the radical organizations operating in Sinai, although it was careful to emphasize that the issue is an internal Egyptian one, rather than one having to do with Israeli security.

It’s difficult to blame the new Egyptian government for being responsible for the years of neglect in the Sinai Peninsula and of its Bedouin communities. The responsibility rests with the Mubarak government, which saw the Bedouins as a foreign threat that partially cooperates with Israel. This neglect laid the groundwork for cooperation between some of the Bedouins and radical organizations which paid the Bedouins to smuggle weapons or to assist in terror attacks. It is interesting that the government’s message included a commitment to organize a special authority, by next Monday, to deal with the Bedouins. It is clear that the government understands its failure to secure the area, a form of neglect which now threatens Egypt’s national security and its relations with Israel.

Israel can stick to its blind position and determine that Egypt’s problems are not relevant. However, said position will lead it to the exact same problems it has vis-à-vis its relations with Turkey, wherein many Egyptians are calling on their government to “reexamine” the Camp David Accords. The current crisis with Egypt needs to be resolved quickly. An apology for killing Egyptian soldiers is not an issue of honor, but of national security. Furthermore, Egypt’s public efforts to fight radical organizations in the Sinai Peninsula, efforts that pushed it to increase its forces in the Sinai in contravention with the Camp David Accords, should not go unrecognized.



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