by P. David Hornik
In recent days Egypt canceled its deal to sell natural gas to Israel, thereby reneging on one of the key planks of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty.
At least, that’s what some say, while others say it was only the Egyptian gas company that canceled the deal and not the Egyptian government.
Israel’s leading daily Israel Hayom cites “analysts in the Arabic press” who say “the national gas company could not have taken such a fateful decision without the go-ahead from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which effectively rules Egypt.” Yet Israel Hayom also mentions “senior officials” in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office who claim that “the Egyptian government had not been involved in the decision in any way, and that it was a purely commercial move.”
Indeed, one of those downplaying the development is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said: “We don’t see this gas cutoff as something that is born out of political developments. This is actually a business dispute between the Israeli company and the Egyptian company.” Yet his finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, said: “This is a dangerous precedent that overshadows the peace agreements…between Israel and Egypt.”
One can sum it up simply by saying that: the cutoff is not a good development; and since the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in January last year, the Israeli government has consistently downplayed negative developments and held out hopes that the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty will endure. Bumps in the road since Mubarak’s ouster have included:
● The bombing of Egypt’s gas pipeline in Sinai no less than 14 times
● Sinai’s deterioration into a badlands dominated by Bedouin gangs and terrorists, leading to last August’s terror attack on southern Israel
● The subsequent storming of the Israeli embassy by a mob in Cairo and near-lynching of six of its workers
● The overwhelming victory of Islamists in Egypt’s parliamentary elections
● The firing of a rocket from Sinai into Israel’s southern coastal resort of Eilat
● A furious backlash in recent days against Egypt’s Grand Mufti for merely visiting Jerusalem, with MPs and others demanding that he step down
Also not in dispute is that since the ill-named “Arab Spring” emerged in Egypt, the gas deal with Israel has become, as Israeli commentator Boaz Bismuth notes,
one of the main issues with which to bash the old regime: Cairo is carrying out a broad investigation into the deal; Mubarak’s two sons as well as his high-ranking officials are being investigated in a huge corruption probe surrounding the deal; the people, many of whom are hungry and poor, read in the papers every day how Israel is responsible for the loss of millions of dollars in revenue, which have been “stolen” from the Egyptians.That use of Israel as the national whipping-boy, it should be noted, is not an innovation of the new, “Arab Spring” Egypt; it occurred under the Mubarak regime—peace treaty and all—as well. But with Egypt’s presidential elections scheduled for May and June and the Islamists angling for an ever-greater share of power, there is a real danger of Israel- and Jew-hatred turning from a national sport and emotional outlet into something more tangibly dangerous.
The U.S. Congress, aware of such danger, has made warnings that continued U.S. military aid to Egypt—now at $1.3 billion annually—depends on upholding the peace treaty. One outcome of that treaty is that Egypt became a U.S. client state, its armed forces equipped with top-of-the-line U.S.-manufactured planes, tanks, and missiles. It makes little sense to keep strengthening an Egypt that reduces the U.S.-brokered treaty to a laughingstock. The gas cutoff—whoever, in the now-chaotic polity, is behind it—is another step in that direction.
P. David Hornik
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