How Egypt Uses Israel’s Desire for Normalization as a Bargaining Chip

Last Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty concluded by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. To commemorate that event, Israel hosted a series of public events at universities and think tanks, to which it invited Egyptian private citizens and officials, including Hebrew-speaking diplomats stationed in Tel Aviv—not one of whom attended. Nor was there an Egyptian parallel to the attention or the celebratory tone that Israeli media lavished on the anniversary. Haisam Hassanein finds this divergence emblematic of the two countries’ attitudes:

Egyptian authorities have used the difference [between their goals and Israel’s] to further their own interests, often wielding it as a tool of punishment or reward. Cairo is well aware that many Israelis are so eager for recognition, warmth, and normal relations that they will often seize on whatever diplomatic door is opened—and willingly pay a price to keep it open if the other side threatens to close it.

This is why Egypt will occasionally exchange delegations with Israel, send a group of tourists there, cooperate in certain technical fields, moderate attacks in the Egyptian media, ameliorate the security situation around the Israeli embassy, grant permission to hold bilateral cultural activities, marginally improve trade relations, allow meetings between Israeli and Egyptian notables, accept Israeli invitations to high-profile dinners, and participate in trade shows or cultural fairs with Israelis.

At the same time, the government allows local media to maintain a very hostile tone toward Israel. During last year’s Ramadan observances, for example, Egyptian television aired a show in which an al-Qaeda member operating in the country turns out to be an Israeli Mossad agent bent on compromising Egypt’s national security. The government publicly praised the program, and its tacit endorsement of such warped views seems clear given the degree to which President Sisi has controlled the media since he rose to power. Most media depictions of Israel-related issues [should] be thought of as approved by government officials, reflecting a widespread desire to ostracize Israelis and Jews, foment fear and hatred toward them, and glorify the Arab struggle against them.

[Moreover], Cairo seems to believe other Arab states are not strong enough to handle full normalization, theorizing that such an outcome would allow Israel to take control of their economic and financial systems. Hence, Egyptian officials seem to market their own approach to Israel as the best model—namely, sign a bilateral peace agreement, yet greatly limit normalization in order to forestall the supposed damage that Israel would do to the region’s social, political, and cultural texture.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Anti-Semitism, Egypt, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy

 

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship