Israel and the New Egypt
The Israeli-Egyptian border has an end of the world like feel: scrubby desert flatlands punctuated by the briefest stretch of a barbed wire fence and soldiers on either side of the sandy divide who, on occasion, shout friendly obscenities to one another.“Your mother,” calls out a smiling Israeli soldier (who happens, unusually enough, to be an Arab from Nazareth) to his Egyptian counterparts on a recent afternoon. Young men also restless with border duty, they reply in kind.
The question of what will become of Israeli-Egyptian relations now that Egypt has officially entered a post-Mubarak era seems as long and open as the border itself and the uncertainty has made Israeli officialdom jittery at best.
But on Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pushed aside the gloom — and chants from the Chorus of Doom that the Muslim Brotherhood is coming– to welcome assurances by the Egyptian military that all international agreements would be honored.
“The Government of Israel welcomes the Egyptian military statement that Egypt will continue to honor its peace agreement with Israel,” Netanyahu said at the weekly Cabinet meeting. “The peace agreement with Israel has stood for many years. During this period, all Egyptian governments have upheld and advanced it and we believe that it is the cornerstone of peace and stability, not only between the two countries, but in the entire Middle East as well.”
He stopped short of wishing the Egyptian people the best as they embark on the road towards democracy, which perhaps would have been nice, but doubtless would not have been so appreciated by the Egyptians themselves. They are not traditionally big fans of the rather icy, but stable 32-year peace with Israel.
Nevertheless a group of Israeli musicians sent their hopes for a successful revolution via youtube. httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6eW_V3ph94&feature=player_embedded#at=39
And the Israeli newspapers, publishing Sunday for the first time since Mubarak stepped aside on Friday night acknowledged the new reality in banner headlines hailing “A New Middle East” .
“The Israeli government is quickly adjusting to the day after Mubarak. The transition was from panic to resignation, from doomsday prophecies to a sober effort to get along with things as they actually are,” wrote Nahum Barnea, a veteran columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot.
To that end Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, held a series of meetings in Washington last week in an effort to forge a joint policy on events in Egypt.
Barak also spoke by phone over the weekend to Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s higher military council, the first conversation between an Israeli and Egyptian official since the uprising began in which he said they had the responsibility to stop bloodshed like the 1973 Mideast War, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War.
During their conversation Barak pointed out that during that war at the same time Tantawi was commander of a division in the Sinai Peninsula Barak also was there nearby as the commander of an Armored Corps reservist battalion.
Israeli officials are concerned less about the short and medium term as they are on the uncertainty of the long-term, particularly if Egypt’s military loses its central role. And in a transforming landscape it is seeking new ways to gather intelligence and rethink ways to protect its southern border with Egypt that for decades has not been a concern even as Israel went to war in Lebanon or Gaza.
Among the Israeli residents of the cluster of sleepy farming collectives that line the the border about 30 miles south of Gaza the mood is decidedly low-key.
Like the politicians they too have nothing to do but wait and watch.
Dusty military Hummers pull up into the main square of the village of Kadesh Barnea, a grassy knoll with a small grocery store, and soldiers in helmets and fatigues load up on cigarettes and bottles of Coke between patrols of the border which have been stepped up since the unrest in Egypt. Nearby children climb a tree.
”We hope the stability stays,” said Robert Fisher, 59, looking beyond the children towards the soldiers. “It’s all very strange all this because until now it’s been the quietest place in the country.”
(photo by Dina Kraft)
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