“Interchangeable ever were the terms of abuse with which the aggressor discredits those about to be ravaged!”
–Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
By Barry Rubin
Reality: Those who are, or will soon be, governing Egypt view themselves as being at war with Israel for all practical purposes. It matters relatively little that there is still a peace treaty. In Cairo, there are no thoughts of peace.
This is the second biggest disaster of the “Arab Spring.” The same applies to the Egyptian government’s attitude to the United States. That is the biggest disaster.
It is a disaster that U.S. policymakers and journalists have not even begun to recognize, much less counter.
Here’s the latest example. The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously to demand the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador and the halt of all natural gas exports to Israel. Isn’t going to happen? Well, not this month. Of course, the military junta is still in control, but it won’t be by the end of June. And then the deluge begins.
The mechanics of this step are especially significant. The parliament’s Arab affairs committee issued a report that stated:
“Revolutionary Egypt will never be a friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity (Israel), which we consider to be the number one enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation. It will deal with that entity as an enemy, and the Egyptian government is hereby called upon to review all its relations and accords with that enemy.”
It’s rather difficult to be at peace with your “number one enemy” isn’t it, especially when you treat it as an enemy in all aspects of policy? And in this report and successful resolution, Israel is referred to as an “entity” and not a state thirty years after the two countries made peace and “ended” their conflict. That’s the same term used by Iran, Hamas, and Hizballah.
The report also endorses Palestinian resistance “in all its kinds and forms” against Israel’s “aggressive policies.” That is an endorsement of terrorism and of Hamas firing rockets, missiles, and mortars from the Gaza Strip. If, for example, a Palestinian were to get inside an Israeli kindergarten and machinegun all the toddlers that would be justified in the eyes of Egypt’s new rulers. And that’s no exaggeration.
In a sense, then, this is a declaration of war. Oh, it isn’t a formal war with the Egyptian military building up its forces in eastern Sinai or launching a cross-border attack. But war nonetheless.
It means—as I’ve been warning for a year—that Egypt will do almost anything to help Hamas wage a war against Israel from the Gaza Strip. This will mean: the free flow of military supplies, money, terrorists, and even Egyptian volunteers. It also means the building of Hamas weapons’ manufacturing factories, bases, and training installations in eastern Sinai.
And there’s something else here that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The vote was unanimous. There is not a single Egyptian in parliament that would dare say,
“Wait a minute! Is this wise? Is this accurate? Didn’t we get back the Sinai as a result of peace, which means the reopening of the Suez Canal and the operation of our oilfields there? Aren’t we in danger of sliding into a disastrous war? Haven’t we been down this path before? Don’t we want to avoid foreign adventures and focus on dealing with our social problems and economy? Shouldn’t we try to maintain a good relationship with the United States?”
Nobody, or close to nobody, will say such things, even the few who dare think them will not dare speak them. This is how the hysteria and demagoguery build into war, bloodshed, and catastrophe. If they don’t say it now, they certainly won’t say it a year from now.
This does not mean that Egypt is going to go to war by means of its army attacking Israel. It does, however, mean that Egypt will do everything up to that point. And it is possible that through ideological fanaticism, miscalculation, or the actions of subordinates even this line will be crossed in future.
And the West doesn’t have a clue that there is a volcano steaming away, throwing rocks into the air, rumbling, and getting ready to blow.
When I talk to Western diplomats and journalists they keep saying something like: But it doesn’t make sense for Egypt to become a radical state eager for a confrontation with Israel. It isn’t in their interests given all the country’s internal and economic problems.
The Western governments, media, and “experts” are still pretending that good old material interest will solve everything and keep everyone moderate. Pay no attention to Egypt’s willingness to try more than a dozen Americans as espionage agents even though that action jeopardizes future aid. There’s nothing to worry about.
Precisely the opposite is true. Since the new rulers cannot solve or even reduce those things such extremism is precisely the answer to their political problems. Whip up hysteria, ensure mass support, and get people to forget or ignore their “real” problems. There is an Arab expression often used as the battle cry of this method: Let no voice rise above the din of battle. Or, to put it another way, Shut up! We’re busy trying to kill Jews here!
In my opinion, the coming developments in Egypt are going to dwarf any threat from Iran, certainly for the next two years.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.