Egyptian Border Attack Fuels Anxiety
Following yesterday’s attack on an Egyptian border post in which at least 16 troops were reportedly shot dead by militants, the focus of Western attention will no doubt shift to the thorny matter of Cairo’s three-decade peace treaty with Israel.
It was of course one of the main topics of debate among American and British political pundits after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
With the Muslim Brotherhood poised to seize power, many asked, would the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978 following yet another war between the two powers four years previously, now be under threat?
A quick glance at recent developments might lend weight to such diversions. It was only in April, after all, that Egypt suddenly announced it was terminating a highly unpopular gas deal with its neighbor that had critically undermined the credibility of the Mubarak regime.
Then in June, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Egypt’s incoming president, Mohamed Morsi, not to do anything which might jeopardize the long-standing alliance.
“We expect the president to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments,” he said.
Yesterday’s audacious attack, in which the militants stole two armored trucks and crashed them through a security fence into Israel, is grist to the mill of those who believe the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent political advances will herald a new age of Islamic radicalism in the Arab world.
Both Cairo and Tel Aviv blamed Gaza-based Islamic militants for the operation – and there seems little doubt that armed groups and religious fundamentalists have taken advantage of Egypt’s year of turmoil.
In August last year eight people were killed when gunmen launched a cross-border attack and opened fire on a bus in Israel.
In a another sign of the expanding security vacuum, the pipeline which once carried gas into Israel from Egypt was blown up several times following the February 2011 insurrection.
The Camp David Accords have not remained entirely impervious to the effects of the renewed militancy in the North Sinai.
In contravention of the treaty, last year Egypt was allowed to dispatch hundreds of troops to the region in a bid to crack down on gunmen seeking refuge in the vast mountain wilderness. Further amendments may well be forthcoming under the new political climate.
But any talk of revoking the deal completely, no matter how popular such a move might be among some on the Egyptian street, is pie-in-the-sky.
The last thing post-revolutionary Egypt needs – in addition to its stagnant economy and youth unemployment issues – is a war. It would be political suicide for any Brotherhood administration and lead to the loss of huge US-sponsored subsidies.
On the flip side, with Israelis seeing enemies at practically every point of the compass, they could also do without another worry on the southern border.
As things stand, the Camp David Accords appear safe for some time yet.