A New Threat Pops Up - Egypt

After the Iraqi threat evaporated, others, old and new, were immediately pulled out of the hat. After all, it is unthinkable that the threats to poor little Israel should be reduced; this might lead to a doomsday scenario - a drastic cut in the defense budget.

After the Iraqi threat evaporated, others, old and new, were immediately pulled out of the hat. After all, it is unthinkable that the threats to poor little Israel should be reduced; this might lead to a doomsday scenario - a drastic cut in the defense budget. So, the good old Syrian specter and the Iranian missiles were resuscitated, and a new threat was also tossed in - Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have suddenly become a serious threat now that they have deployed fighter jets at Tabuk airport, not far from Eilat.

The fact that the Syrian military is so weak that even Syrian officers don't believe it is capable of conducting a war against the Israel Defense Forces does not dissuade anyone from brandishing it as an existential threat that, of course, requires massive budgets. The Iranians may not have nuclear warheads and probably will not have any in the near future, but this is no reason to stop fearing them. The Saudis have had F-15s for many years, and the fact that a few of them have landed a little closer to Israel does not change the threat from this country one iota.

But apparently the defense establishment is not convinced that promulgating these threats is enough to stop further cuts in the defense budget, so they are exhuming the so-called Egyptian threat. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz cautioned last week against Egypt's arms stockpiling over the past few months. The defense establishment suddenly realized that Egypt was buying high-end weapons from the U.S. The excuse for the warning by Mofaz is Washington's intention to sell Egypt satellite-guided JDAM bombs. These are indeed precise weapons, but it is ridiculous to assert that they upgrade the Egyptian military and change the strategic balance against Israel. The defense establishment went further than that, and leaked that "in the past two years regular IDF corps have been training on battle scenarios in the Sinai peninsula, simulating a defensive battle with Egyptian forces. Israeli intelligence has collected information indicating an increase in Egypt's order of battle and substantial weapons stockpiling. Egypt has also built fortifications throughout the Sinai in preparation for the future war."

The defense minister himself wonders about Egypt's stockpiling. "What for? After all, we have peace with Egypt and to the best of my knowledge there is no country that is physically threatening Egypt." Mofaz is not only puzzled, he is also concerned. "Within a few years Egypt's leadership might be replaced and the new regime might have a different attitude toward Israel."

Apparently, the tension and futile fighting in the territories are not enough for him, so he tries to ratchet up tensions on another front. War is not an option, Egypt's president repeatedly states, practically begging Israel to be careful in the territories so that it does not cause an escalation that would lead to regional war. But why should we listen to Mubarak or try to understand his position and constraints, when it so much easier to fall back into old, familiar patterns; we can attack him, demonize him and mainly insult him with a broad hint about the terrible, dark regime that will soon be taking his place.

Mofaz is not alone. The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuval Steinitz, who long ago "exposed Egypt's true face," quickly stated that "Israel is now facing two potentially existential threats ... the Iranian nuclear threat and Egypt's arms race ... Egypt is stockpiling ... (and) simulating a war with Israel. We must not repeat the same mistake we made 30 years ago. I am concerned about a war with Egypt, even under the current regime."

Egypt's military is definitely building up its power. It is transforming from a fighting force based on Soviet arms systems into a modern army with top-of-the-line Western technology. The Egyptian air force has 481 fighter jets, including advanced F-16s. The army has 3,500 tanks, including American Abrams tanks. Egypt's military also has ballistic missiles, ship-launched Harpoon 2 missiles and almost 500,000 soldiers in the regular army. But a quick look at Egypt's economic situation, its dependence on the U.S. and its long-term objectives leaves no doubt that a war with Israel is the last thing Egypt wants.

But Israel's current cabinet, which is well-represented by Mofaz, does not let the facts confuse it. Sharon and Mofaz (the other ministers have no say anyway) see the world in general and the Middle East in particular through the sights of a gun. They do not trust the Arabs, wherever they come from - Nablus or Cairo; in their mind, we have no choice but to solve all our problems in the region with military force, just as we have been doing with the Palestinian problem. They are not concerned that the situation might escalate and lead to war; they may even be hoping that this happens. It therefore makes perfect sense for them to dispatch jets to drop bombs outside Damascus, magnify the Iranian threat, demonize Saudi Arabia and heat up tensions with Egypt. If a war breaks out on one of these fronts, we will finally be on solid ground - after all, using force is one thing we know how to do.