Israel Should Be Concerned, but Not Alarmed, by Egypt’s Military Buildup

Jan. 12 2018

Since taking power, Egypt’s President Sisi has invested heavily in acquiring a variety of advanced materiel for his country’s armed forces, in addition to embarking on major infrastructure projects that cannot be justified in civilian terms alone. Cairo’s purchases, writes Yagil Henkin, do not suggest a military equipping itself to fight irregular forces—such as the Islamic State insurgents Egypt currently faces in the Sinai, or the insurgent groups it might have to fight in Libya. Furthermore, the infrastructure buildup is overwhelmingly in the east, in and near Sinai, rather than near the borders with Libya or Sudan. Henkin seeks to explain what might motivate Sisi, and how Jerusalem should react:

It’s hard to tell what’s driving the Egyptian military buildup. There are many possible reasons for a military buildup . . . : preserving [Egypt’s] status in the Arab world, . . . creating an infrastructure for future Russian deployment [in Egypt’s borders], preparation for a conflict with Israel or for the re-militarization of the Sinai, [and] strengthening the internal status of the government and the ruling class, in a country in which the army is, in many ways, the state itself. . . .

President Sisi has stated that he is not afraid of an invasion because no organized army is threatening Egypt, but that Egypt needs a big army due to the unstable situation and the “vacuum” in the Middle East. According to his statements, the Egyptian buildup partially can be interpreted as [preparation] for the rapid deployment of troops throughout the Middle East. Sisi has indeed declared his support of a united Arab force to deal with problems in the Middle East, and said that Egypt will play a part in this force. . . . However, the bulk of the Egyptian army is built as a heavy mechanized and armored force, and will not be able quickly to reach other countries, from Libya to Saudi Arabia. . . .

[T]he upshot is that Israel must maintain a basic capacity for mechanized warfare against modern armies. It must not assume that the present situation, in which Israel has had a crushing material military advantage versus its enemies (as in the Second Lebanon War and in recent wars against Hamas), will remain the same against other possible adversaries. . . . If the Muslim Brotherhood had remained in power in Egypt and had succeeded in carrying out an Erdogan-like revolution (that is, the purging of the army and bringing it under Brotherhood control), Israel would have found itself much more concerned [than it is now]. . . .

Israel must keep a careful eye on the changes in Egypt and their implications; and, at the same time, increase cooperation with Egypt as much as possible. Cooperation does not necessarily prevent future conflict, but it reduces misunderstandings and creates de-facto alliances. Such alliances reduce the chances of unintentional escalation. In other words, Israel’s great challenge is to maintain and improve relations with Egypt, and at the same time be prepared, without causing unintended escalation, for a situation in which the optimistic scenarios do not materialize.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: Egypt, General Sisi, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Sinai Peninsula

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem