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Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedlyallowed about 800 Egyptian troops to deploy around Sharm el-Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
Some reports said Bedouin in the area – as part of the unrest now roiling Egypt – were challenging the Egyptian authorities there and needed to be quelled. The demilitarization of Sinai, from which Egypt attacked Israel in the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars, is a central plank of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. It was maintained for three decades – until now.
That is not to say Sinai’s demilitarization has made life easy for Israel. Particularly since the latter’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Sinai has been a smuggling route where missiles and other weaponry originating in Iran make their way to Hamas in Gaza.
More recently it has also been a route where illegal African migrants – smuggled, like the weapons, by gangs of Sinai Bedouin – make their way into Israel, creating serious social and crime problems in some of its cities.
Still, to most Israelis these have seemed prices worth paying in return for the Israeli-Egyptian peace – or lack of military hostilities – that has prevailed since the peace treaty was signed.
The remilitarization of Sinai – even if at a small, symbolic level, and done to help the Mubarak regime preserve control at a moment of crisis – rouses specters for Israelis already rattled by fears of that regime’s dissolution.
Indeed, Aluf Benn, a columnist for Haaretz who drew some attention last week when he called Barack Obama “the president who lost Egypt,” seesthe remilitarization as irreversible:
“The Egyptians view the restrictions to their sovereignty in Sinai that were established in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty as a painful blow to their national pride. Now they have taken advantage of the situation and redeployed their army in the demilitarized peninsula. No future government in Cairo will return this force to the other side of Suez.”
That is not to say Benn is critical of Netanyahu’s move: whereas “the ideologue in [him],” he claims, “would certainly have advocated holding steadfast to the letter of the treaty Netanyahu the statesman opted to sideline the demilitarization arrangements, fearing what would happen if angry masses took over the Straits of Tiran and were in a position to threaten Israel’s freedom of navigation to [its southern port of] Eilat.”
From that point, though, Benn, a left-of-center columnist whose earlier criticism of Obama seemed notable for reflecting Israeli unity on the Egyptian crisis, does manage to mount a curious challenge to Netanyahu. For if the latter’s “predictions come true,” he writes, “and Egypt becomes a new Iran should [Israel] go back to the strategic situation that prevailed before the peace agreement? Should it prepare for confrontation on all fronts ? Or should it make peace in the east and the north and concentrate its force against a new enemy in the south?”
By “the east and the north” Benn means, of course, the West Bank Palestinians and Syria respectively. In other words, for him, the right response to the crumbling of one “peace” would be to “make” two more. Despite the facts that decades of attempts at forging Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace have led nowhere at best and to severe terrorism in Israel at worst, and that the present situation in Egypt reveals the fragility of any such “peace” in a fundamentally unstable Middle East.
Benn insists, though, that “peace treaties are not an expression of leftist messianism, as argued by the right wing. Diplomacy is an alternative to force . If an Islamic republic takes hold in Egypt, Netanyahu will face a reverse situation and will be forced to decide whether to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights in an effort to stabilize the eastern front and concentrate a deterrent force on the southern front.”
It makes perfect arithmetical sense, at least: if you find yourself facing three enemies, why not “stabilize” two of them and have only one?
Except that Benn thereby ignores all the painful lessons Israelis have learned about the depth and intransigence of Arab-Muslim rejection and hatred – not to mention the radical strategic precariousness of giving up the West Bank and the Golan; and puts the onus on Netanyahu – that is, on Israel – to make friends, as if the Palestinians and Syria exist only to be courted by Israel and will wilt as soon as Israel makes a move.
And so the Israeli right-left divide endures.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Israel. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com.
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Shepherding in the Shomron isn’t your usual kind of shepherding – despite his business-minded beginnings, Eli has discovered that a strong ideological impetus powers the job.
I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”
His entire existence was about spreading simcha and glorifying G-d’s name on a daily basis.
At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel
“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”
Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning
Speaker Silver has been an extraordinary public servant since his election to the Assembly in 1975 and has been an exemplary leader of that body since 1994.
He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.
Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.
Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.
Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed
Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.
Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released its population data for 2012, the year that just ended. As usual, the trends are favorable. The total Israeli population rose to just under eight million, while the Jewish population for the first time rose to just over six million.
How well are Jews – and non-Jews – doing with regard to the Jewish state? If the question focuses on the highbrow world, and particularly its predominant persuasion of liberalism (or what is still called by that name), the answer that emerges from Edward Alexander’s new book is: not very well.
It’s been a bumpy road for the Palestinians lately.
Recent staged spectacles that were supposed to whip up sympathy for them and put Israel in a bad light again – the Nakba Day (May 15) and Naksa Day (June 4) marches on Israel’s borders, the flotilla, the flytilla – have been disappointments at best, if not outright flops. And the Palestinians’ long-hyped independent-statehood bid at the UN in September is meeting growing opposition from the West.
When Glenn Beck’s upcoming Jerusalem rally was first announced, he saidit would be called “Restore Courage” – modeled on his “Restoring Honor” rally last year in Washington that drew half a million. Or as Beck put it: “Last summer, we set out to restore honor in Washington, DC. This summer, it’s time to restore courage. It is time for us to courageously stand with Israel.”
In reaction to the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity deal signed in Cairo, Israel decided to turn off the spigot. It halted the transfer to the PA of over $100 million in customs and tax revenues.
The day after last week’s announcement of a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement in Cairo, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said he would keep pursuing peace talks with Israel. Almost concurrently, top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said Hamas would stick to its stance of neither recognizing nor negotiating with Israel, but “if Fatah wants to negotiate with Israel over trivialities, they can.”
“With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” President Obama saidlast week after meeting with Israeli president Shimon Peres.
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