Would Egypt Fight Israel?

Is the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in danger of crumbling? Can an ally also be an enemy?

In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israeli PM Menachem Begin. The important treaty made Egypt the first Arab country to recognize Israel (to be followed by Jordan in 1994) and put an end to the state of war that had lasted between the two countries since 1948. The treaty was also important because it put official Egyptian policy at odds with the rest of the Arab world. Today, the peace lasts and has contributed to the illegal blockade of Gaza.

Egypt’s participation in the suffocation of Gaza has fueled resentment among Arabs throughout the Arab world; indeed, the Egyptian blockade is condemned by Arab leaders as helping Israel.  Moreover, the peace with Israel is not particularly popular among Egyptians themselves.  In 2006, an official governmental poll found that 92% of Egyptians viewed Israel as an enemy.

[tweetmeme] Recently, Egyptian officials have begun to sway on their high wire act.  In response to the alleged SCUD missiles sent from Syria to Hezbollah, Egypt strongly sided with the Arabs – Egyptian FM Ahmed Abdul Gheit called the accusation ‘laughable.’  Perhaps, though, this is a result of the diplomatic offensive undertaken by Lebanese PM Saad Hariri to discredit the SCUD report.  Hariri has been working hard to convince leaders that the SCUD accusation is simply a pretext to war – similar to the WMD accusation in Iraq.

Meanwhile, in order to calm tensions between Israel and Syria, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel has no plans for war against Syria – but did not offer a similar reassurance for Lebanon.  However, considering the defensive pact that has formed between Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, it can be assumed that an Israeli offensive against Hezbollah would have serious regional consequences.

Perhaps in order to dissuade war, Hariri has been very vocal about the SCUD accusation.  Specifically, calling the controversy a means to justify an Israeli attack on Hezbollah and Lebanon.  Yet, here again, Egypt appears.  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – fresh off surgery – recently assured Hariri that there would be no Israeli attack on Lebanon.  FM Gheit, however, recently sent a letter to US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton warning that Israeli military actions in Northern Israel could result in another round of violence between Israel and Lebanon.

Gheit, on a recent trip to Beirut, also said that Egypt would stand by Lebanon and Syria in the event of an Israeli attack. Furthermore, Gheit referred to Israel as an enemy during his press conference in Beirut:

Following talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister ‘Ali Al-Shami, Aboul Gheit was asked whether he was visiting Beirut in order to convey a warning from Israel.

The Egyptian minister said in response that the purpose of his trip was not to relay messages “from the enemy to a sister Arab state.”

President Mubarak said in a speech, though, that Egypt was committed to peace if Israel was.  The implications of these developments are huge.  If Israel attacks Lebanon, will Egypt break ties with the Jewish state?  Would it attack Israel?  If nothing else, the reference to Israel as an enemy certainly reflects the popular opinion in Egypt as well as the growing diplomatic isolation of Israel.  After severely damaging its ties with Turkey, is Israel in danger of losing Egypt as well?

Photo from Real Clear Politics

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