Egypt Is No Longer the Lodestar for the Arab World. But It Still Matters

March 20 2017

In the middle of the last century, Cairo was the cultural and intellectual capital of the Arab world, the Egyptian government its diplomatic and military leader, and the country a model of Arab nationalism. While this is no longer true, writes Samuel Tadros, that is no reason for the U.S. to abandon its longstanding alliance with Egypt:

Egypt’s control of the Arab League is no longer as strong as in the past and in any case the Arab League is irrelevant. Maintaining the peace treaty with Israel is in Egypt’s own interests and not dependent on U.S. support. Al-Azhar [University, once an important center of Islamic learning], holds no sway over the world’s Muslim population, and Egypt’s cultural decline leaves it with limited soft-power capabilities [to influence] Arabic-speaking peoples. From Syria to Yemen and even in neighboring Libya, Egypt has lost its ability to impact its surroundings. Even regional allies are growing frustrated with Egypt and its president. Those in the Gulf dreaming of Egypt becoming a counterweight to Iran are realizing the futility of their investments. [Above all], Egypt is increasingly deteriorating under the weight of its own troubles. . . .

Egypt . . . may no longer be a contestant for regional hegemony, but it is today the primary contested prize in a struggle over the region’s future. . . . The collapse of Egypt—with its population of 92-million—would lead to a refugee crisis of historic proportions. No one wants a Somalia on the Nile, a Libya on Israel’s borders, or a Syria in control of the Suez Canal, the United States least of all.

But if this scenario is to be averted, the U.S. needs to adjust its policies accordingly. The United States should no longer base its policy on an Egypt that no longer exists. U.S. interests in Egypt are no longer maintaining the peace treaty [with Israel] or passage in the Suez Canal, but rather strengthening state institutions to make sure a regime collapse does not lead to a state collapse. Instead of focusing on military cooperation, the United States needs to develop a new partnership with Egypt that addresses the growing terrorist threat in the country, the collapse of the rule of law, failed economic policies, the educational vacuum, and the growing sectarian hatreds that threaten the fate of the Middle East’s largest Christian community.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Arab World, Camp David Accords, Egypt, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

As the Situation in Syria Changes, the Risks for Israel Increase

March 27 2017

On March 17, the Israeli Air Force struck a weapons convoy near Palmyra that was most likely bringing precision missiles to Hizballah in Lebanon. Syria responded with surface-to-air missiles, in turn triggering Israeli anti-missile missiles that successfully intercepted the counterattack. Yoav Limor comments on what is becoming an increasingly volatile situation:

[A series of military] successes in Syria have led the Russians, [who are fighting to prop up the Assad regime] to expand their campaign, and there is no doubt that Raqqa, Islamic State’s “capital” in Syria, as well as Palmyra and Deir el-Zor are next on Moscow’s list. Seizing control of these strategic areas will significantly increase Russia’s scope of operations, hence the increased risk factors in the regional theater, which includes Israel.

This was most likely the reason for Russia’s ire over the Israeli strike [on the Hizballah-bound convoy] in Syria, which led the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov to summon, very publicly, the Israeli ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to provide clarifications. . . . The area struck near Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, is home to a Russian base and it is possible the Russian troops felt threatened, or that someone in the Kremlin wanted to draw clear operational parameters for Israel.

To be clear: Russia has no interest in a clash with Israel or in a fresh Israeli-Syrian conflict. But if until now Moscow was conspicuously uninterested in the covert blows Israel has been dealing Hizballah and Syria, the latest signal from the Kremlin is at the very least a warning sign to remind anyone who might have forgotten that the only interest Russia cares about is its own. . . .

[T]he tensions on the northern border do not spell an inevitable Israeli-Syrian conflict, as all regional actors have a clear interest to avoid one. Assad wants to re-establish his rule and he does not want to endanger it with an unplanned escalation against Israel, the strongest regional entity; Iran and Hizballah currently prefer to expand their regional sphere of influence quietly; and Israel wants peace and quiet as long as its two main interests—preventing advanced weapons from reaching Hizballah and avoiding war on the Golan Heights—are maintained. However, . . . recent events increase the risk that the parties could find themselves in a situation that might rapidly spiral out of control and result in a full-blown conflict.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war