Navigating the Egypt-Turkey-Russia Triangle

Oct. 28 2020

On October 9, Moscow and Cairo announced that their navies are planning joint exercises in the Black Sea—a move clearly aimed at Turkey, which has a bitter enemy in Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and has increasingly run afoul of Vladimir Putin in Syria, the Caucasus, and Libya. Jerusalem’s interests lie with the pro-Israel Sisi against Turkey’s pro-Hamas Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the situation is hardly straightforward. Jonathan Spyer explains:

In Israel, the rivalries between regional powers are generally understood to offer a certain advantage to Jerusalem, in that the power diplomatically closer to Israel (in this case Egypt) is likely to feel the need to cleave more closely to its allies in the face of a shared threat. The establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum and its recent formalization as an international organization exemplify this process.

The efforts of Moscow to assert itself as a power in the eastern Mediterranean should sound a cautionary note, however. . . . Russia is strategically aligned in the Levant with Iran, Israel’s most implacable enemy. Russian weapons (via Iran and Syria) make up the bulk of the formidable arsenal assembled in the service of Iranian goals by Lebanese Hizballah. Russia is also a rival of Israel in the matter of gas exports to Europe. All this means that Russian efforts to leverage regional power rivalries to increase its own presence and influence are not a net positive for Jerusalem. From the Israeli point of view, while there is no enmity, the less Russia, the better.

The Russian entry into the picture, as elsewhere, is made possible by the absence of another major power. The EU can issue declarations, but it has no united force to deploy. The power that is absent in the eastern Mediterranean, and indeed whose absence makes possible both the Turkish aggression and the Russian attempt to “mediate,” is the United States.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Egypt, Israeli Security, Natural Gas, Russia, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy

On Thanksgiving, Remember the Exodus from Egypt

Nov. 27 2020

When asked to design a Great Seal of the United States, Benjamin Franklin proposed a depiction of Moses at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, while Thomas Jefferson suggested the children of Israel in the wilderness after departing Egypt. These proposals, writes Ed Simon, tapped into a venerable American tradition:

The Puritans from whom Franklin descended had been comparing their own arrival in the New World with the story of Exodus for more than a century. They were inheritors of a profoundly Judaic vision, melding the stories of the Hebrew scripture with their own narratives and experiences. . . .

For the Puritans, Exodus was arguably a model for understanding their own lives and history in a manner more all-encompassing and totalizing than for any other historical religious group, with the obvious exception of the Jews. . . . American Puritans and pilgrims like John Mather, John Winthrop, John Cotton, . . . and many others placed the Exodus at the center of their vision, seeing their own fleeing from an oppressive England and a Europe wracked by the Thirty Years’ War to an American “Errand Into the Wilderness” as a modern version of the Israelites’ escape into Canaan. . . . [Thus the] Exodus . . . has become indispensable in comprehending the wider American experience. Through the Puritans, the story of Exodus became a motivating script for all manner of American stories. . . .

We read its significance and prophetic power in accounts of slaves who escaped the cruelty of antebellum plantation servitude, and who crossed the Ohio River as if it were the Sea of Reeds. . . . We see it in photographs of the oppressed escaping pogroms and persecution in the Old World, and in the stories of later generations of refugees. Exodus is an indispensably Jewish story, but what more appropriate day than Thanksgiving, this most American and Puritan (and “Jewish”?) of holidays, to consider the role that that particular biblical narrative has had in defining America’s civil religion?

Read more at Tablet

More about: American founding, American Religion, Exodus, History & Ideas, Thanksgiving, Thomas Jefferson