The Israelis knew in advance of a looming attack. Hence, the travel warnings, hence the military preparedness, resulting in zero casualties on the Israeli side of the border; zero damage done, zero achievement for the attackers.
But the Egyptians also had warning of the looming attack. They did nothing. Publicly, they rejected Israel’s travel advisory as an uncalled for attempt to serve the interests of Israel’s tourism industry, and as for military preparedness – the slaughter of Egyptian soldiers speaks louder than anything I’m able to write.
Israel is hoping that this latest incident will serve as a wake up call to the Egyptian government. There’s good reason to suspect, though, that this will turn out to be false hope. Sinai is far away, and Egyptians don’t much care what happens there (as long as it isn’t Israeli intervention).
I will make life easy for myself by quoting myself – twice – in the coming paragraphs. Here’s what I wrote about Sinai back in June. It hasn’t changed much:
Israel has very little control over this degenerating situation, even though what happens in Egypt will have great impact on Israel’s security. An Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to remain Israel’s ally. At the same time, the Israeli government is wary of making tense relations even tenser by retaliating against attacks from Egyptian territory. It’s left having to protect it citizens with its hands tied.
And another quote, from February 2011, on why Israel is wary of Egyptian democracy and change:
Mubarak was good for Israel. Not great, mind you. The peace with Egypt was a cold one, and ties between people were rare and strained in many ways. But Israel—with its pragmatic way of prioritizing interests—got a good deal from the Egyptians. The southern border, which was Israel’s main concern in its first 30 years, was quiet and didn’t require much attention. Egyptians agreed to sell gas to Israel and to tighten security in Gaza. They opposed the advancement of Iran and its allies, and they prevented terrorists from infiltrating from the Sinai Peninsula. So, chaos or worse—for example, regime change that strengthens the Muslim Brotherhood or other radical forces—will be a headache for Israel.
And for what? So that Egyptians can have their “democracy”?
This talk of Arab democracy turning into chaos brings Syria to mind. It could be weeks or even a few months when the trouble we now see on the unruly Egyptian border becomes even more pronounced along the unruly Syrian border. In Egypt – while the government is both weak and unfriendly – there is still a government on which to lean, in the hope that some day it will do something about Sinai (if not for Israel, then to guard Egyptian pride – it was Egyptians who were massacred yesterday for no apparent provocation, and without any regard to Egyptian sensitivities and possible reaction). But in Syria things could be worse – with no government and more chaos and Iranian meddling and no US ties that could be used for pressuring the regime (if there’s still a regime). Israel will have to bolster security near both borders, adding to its growing cost of defense expenditures and the growing economic burden Israelis will have to bear in the coming years.
A lot of talk will be dedicated in the coming days to the need to alter past Israeli-Egyptian agreements regarding the number of troops the Egyptians can have in the Sinai Peninsula. If Israel wants Egypt to take care of the growing problem, it will have to let it have more boots on the ground. Three things need to be said about this issue:
Israel has already allowed Egypt to deploy more troops in Sinai, but the Egyptians were reluctant to make use of this new Israeli tolerance. They have Israel’s blessing, but not the troops.
No number of soldiers will be sufficient unless Egypt is ready to walk the walk and truly take on Sinai extremists. As we saw yesterday, these extremists, jihadists, terrorists – call them whatever you want – are very serious when it comes to killing.
With Morsi and Islamic Brotherhood legislators in power, Israel may be right to be extra careful about breach of the peace agreement. Letting Mubarak have more forces in Sinai is different to letting Morsi have more forces in Sinai.
Barak Obama began his term as president with his optimistic Cairo speech, and is ending the term with President Morsi and global Jihad in the Sinai. Do you see an opening here for his Republican rival?