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The long-term damage of the Sinai situation

by Shmuel Rosner

June 22, 2012 | 9:12 am

Israeli construction vehicles building a barrier along the border with Egypt's Sinai desert. (Photo: Reuters)

Three days ago I wrote an IHT-New York Times article on the significance of the Sinai trouble for the ‎prospect of peace making in the Middle East, and on the impact Sinai attacks and ‎Egyptian turmoil have on the way Israelis eye the region.‎

Once again, the great irony of neighborly relations in the Middle East reveals itself ‎to Israelis. On the one hand, making peace with autocratic regimes is only ever a ‎temporary fix because their rulers have little legitimacy and the accords they sign ‎come with unknown expiration dates. On the other hand, while hoping for ‎democracy in the Arab world is a noble principle, it is also a recipe for lawlessness ‎and instability.

Yesterday, Mike Herzog published a policy paper from which one can better ‎understand the strategic implications the Sinai situation might have - not exactly an ‎uplifting read:

Israel still enjoys good operational relations with the Egyptian military, but the ‎latter is increasingly limited by anti-Israeli public sentiment and a politically ‎empowered Muslim Brotherhood. Although Brotherhood leaders have stated that ‎they will honor Egypt’s past international commitments, they have also promised ‎to review the contents of the peace treaty with Israel. In particular, they have ‎targeted the Military Annex, which stipulates Sinai’s demilitarization and is ‎depicted as infringing on Egypt’s honor. It is not clear whether a Brotherhood-run ‎government could or would de-escalate the border situation through its good ‎relationship with Hamas. Yet if tensions erupt between Israel and militants in Gaza ‎or Sinai, the pressure to alter the treaty would come to the fore and threaten ‎bilateral relations.‎

Three quick comments to follow up on this:‎

‎1.‎ Beware of jumping to black-and-white style conclusions such as: “Israel should re-‎occupy Sinai” or “the peace treaty with Egypt is dead”. We’re in a gray area ‎regarding Egypt, which might remain a gray area for a long period of time before a ‎more conclusive understanding of the situation emerges.
‎ ‎
‎2.‎ Herzog recommends international community involvement in preventing Sinai from ‎becoming a source of instability. This might become one of the greatest challenges ‎for American Middle East policy for the second Obama administration or a first ‎Romney administration.

‎3.‎ Israel views with much suspicion and apprehension American moves toward ‎Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It expects the US to set a very high price - litmus tests - ‎before any meaningful engagement with Egypt’s radicals is established. I have ‎good reason to expect that differences on Egypt policy will soon become public.‎
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