by Barry Rubin
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
–William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”
Or, in other words, do these writers, policymakers, and “experts” care what happens in the Middle East? War? Bloodshed? Repression? Christians fleeing; women being turned into chattel? Just a possible boost to their careers and a test for their theories. A good luncheon topic. But this is real, all too real.
First, a word on contingencies. Governments and political analysts are supposed to examine likely problems in order that they can be evaded or minimized. The time to be alarmed is not when problems become visible but when governments refuse to recognize their existence. Western regimes and analysts are generally taking a best-possible-case view on Egypt and other developing issues in the region. I’m tempted to say they are taking a fantasy view. They dismiss not just worst-case but highly likely case scenarios. Now that’s what’s alarming.
In the Sinai Peninsula, Hamas is building support bases and arms-manufacturing facilities including those for building rockets. Over time, these rockets will no doubt be upgraded. In other words, Egypt is becoming a safe haven for anti-Israel terrorism. We know that these attacks will come from the Gaza Strip. The only question is whether at some point they will come directly across the Egypt-Israel border.
Israel had a long experience with three comparable situations. In the 1950-56 era, Egypt was a safe haven for terror attacks into Israel; in the 1967-1970 period, Jordan played this role. During the 1970s and 1980s, even down to today, Lebanon did so, with the safe haven in Syria. The difference was that Israel did attack into Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and even occasionally into Syria in reponse to this situation.
Such an attack into Egypt in response to Egyptian involvement in attacks through the Gaza Strip is unthinkable given what an Egypt-Israel war would look like. And that doesn’t mean there won’t be sporadic attacks across the Egypt-Israel border also that would present similar problems.
There is a pattern here.
Israel, of course, is quickly building a border fence, paid for by a 2 percent cut in the budgets of government agencies, and thus the salaries of government employees.
Meanwhile, too, Libyan weapons, including Russian-made anti-plane rockets that can be fired by one man, are also making their way into the Gaza Strip. From there, or from Egyptian territory, one of them could be fired at an Israeli passenger plane on the Tel Aviv-Eilat route.
Israel has permitted more Egyptian military units to enter Sinai even though this was restricted by their peace treaty. But that doesn’t mean those forces will do anything, or at least do much, against these activities. After all, would Egypt’s army dare suppress Hamas though it is seen by most Egyptians — and soon by a majority in Egypt’s parliament — as heroic? What! Will they act as bodyguards for the evil Zionist entity that is allegedly committing genocide right next door? (That last sentence was a paraphrase of what a leading Egyptian “moderate” claimed in speaking to an American university audience.)
And let’s not forget that there are corrupt officers and also officers who sympathize with Hamas. What if they just don’t follow orders from Cairo?Barry Rubin
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