Bilal Hassen
Asharq Alawsat (Opinion)
September 1, 2011 - 12:00am

The Eilat (Um al-Rushrash) Fedayeen [commando] attack on a number of Israeli targets which took place on 18 August 2011 [Southern Israel cross-border attacks], and the implications of this, continue to gather pace like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. Information surrounding this attack remains vague, and there is no concrete information about those who carried it out, or where they came from. Israel claim that the perpetrators came from Gaza, crossed the Sinai Peninsula, entered Egyptian territory, and attacked Israeli targets from Egyptian soil. Yet Gazan officials categorically reject this claim. Indeed this story does not hold up to logic, for there is no Palestinian Fedayeen-style organization that could unilaterally carry out such an operation over such a large geographic area. Due to the weakness of this theory, other opinions have emerged advocating the idea that a number of parties – including Sinai Bedouin and Egyptian organizations – joined together to carry out this attack. However none of these hypotheses have been proven correct until now. Therefore it appears as if an organization of a new type has emerged; a type of organization that has not been seen in the Palestinian arena before.

Israel held fast to its initial version of events, namely that the attack was carried out by a Gazan group from Egyptian soil. As a result Israel intensified air strikes against the Gaza Strip, and also launched an incursion along the Egyptian border which resulted in the death of an Egyptian military officer and a number of Egyptian soldiers. Following this, the situation here became far more serious, with Cairo rejecting the Israeli version of events and warning it against escalating its attacks on the Gaza Strip. Egypt also warned of the possibility of it reviewing the [1979] Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty. Therefore the situation developed from a Fedayeen-style cross-border attack to a threat to the strategic situation that has existed in the region since the peace accords were first signed between Egypt and Israeli over 30 years ago.

Here we come to the crux of the matter, and an issue worthy of consideration, namely: will the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty remain as it is, or will its terms be reviewed, or could it perhaps even be terminated? To answer this extremely important question, we must review the stances of a number of different parties.

Firstly, Israel: Israel's reaction, intensifying its bombardment of the Gaza Strip and extending the range of its shelling towards the Egyptian border, reflects Tel Aviv’s disregard of others, and the fact that Israel only thinks of itself and never considers how others might react, particularly Egypt which has experienced vast political changes this year. In fact Israel hardly pays any attention to the feeling and views of the Egyptian public, who have established popular and political movements in Egypt today that is exerting pressure and making demands on the Egyptian leadership (the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) today which cannot afford to ignore this. Yet when matters reached the extent of Cairo threatening to review the peace treaty, Tel Aviv realized that its disregard of the position of others could have a negative strategic impact on the future of Israel. As a result of this, Israel halted the major land offensive that it was planning to carry out against the Gaza Strip, after Cairo warned of the potential consequences of going through with this. What helped matters is that Hamas responded rationally to the calls for calm; although it was not long before Israel violated this calm by launching new strikes against the Islamic Jihad movement in the Gaza Strip.

Secondly, Egypt: A considerable change has taken place in Egypt, both with regards to the public and the government. Israel, as usual, proved that it only thinks of itself and therefore took the natural Israeli reaction, that of aggression. Israel failed to understand that the new leadership in Egypt is no longer acting as an Israeli political ally and would therefore not deal with the Hamas movement – in the geographically adjacent area of the Gaza Strip – as a hostile terrorist movement. Rather the Egyptian leadership today is seeking to deal with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as if they are on equal footing. Egypt expressed this by calling for inter-Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation, which was indeed achieved in Cairo under the auspices of the current Egyptian administration. A major result of this was that Cairo began to think of re-opening the Rafah Crossing, which was something that would have occurred were it not for the intense international pressure exerted on Egypt to reconsider. Despite this pressure, the issue of re-opening the Rafah Crossing is still on the table and will be a subject of further discussion.

In addition to this, there is the internal public pressure in Egypt, particularly following the death of the Egyptian soldiers [at the hands of the Israeli security forces who had chased the militants across the Egyptian border]. This incident had a huge impact on the Egyptian army as well as the Egyptian street. This could be clearly seen in the mass demonstration that were staged outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo and which resulted in an Israeli flag being removed, as well as popular demands for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the invalidation of the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty. Although the Egyptian leadership did not respond entirely to such difficult popular demands, it did not ignore them, and the Egyptian leadership today is aware of the need to maintain harmony with the Egyptian street. Here the issue of reviewing the Egyptian –Israeli Peace Treaty is being put forward as a new approach.

Thirdly, the Peace Treaty: this issue must be discussed objectively, not in the framework of the emotional demands of the [Egyptian] public. It is extremely important that this issue is viewed through such an objective framework, even if the issue does not result in the termination of this peace treaty. Here we must recognize that Israel was the first to talk about the uncertain future of the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty, even speaking of establishing a new military force to confront Egypt. There can be no doubt that these confrontational Israeli calls will find a reaction within the Egyptian military. We must also acknowledge that the Sinai Peninsula, in reality, falls outside of Egyptian influence due to the conditions of this peace treaty which stipulate that Egypt cannot station more than 800 soldiers there. This is what opened the way for Sinai Bedouins and nomads to be able to possess and smuggle weapons. This is a state of affairs that has also facilitated weapons being smuggled into the Gaza Strip, particularly advanced missiles, as well as allowing Sinai residents to form small armed militias. Whilst Israel complains about this, Egypt cannot solely be blamed for this state of affairs, for this is the outcome of the terms stipulated by the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty.

Once this situation is under discussion, the proposal of amending the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty will instantly be made. Such amendments would deal with the following essential issues:

Firstly, in order to protect its own security and to monitor the situation on the ground in Sinai, Egypt requires the deployment of additional military troops and security officers; this is something that would necessitate a major amendment of certain articles of the peace treaty. This is something that represents a fait accompli if it cannot be achieved through dialogue and agreement.

Secondly, Egypt – in its attempt to respond to the public atmosphere in Egypt and the public’s demands – has sought to make Tel Aviv understand that this peace treaty is a treaty between Egypt and Israel [not Israel and the Arabs], and it represents nothing more than a mutual pact of non-aggression.

Thirdly, Israel must be aware that Egypt is a leading Arab state, and therefore has responsibilities towards other Arab states. Cairo therefore cannot and will not side with Israel against other Arab states; rather it will side with the Arabs if they are threatened by Israel. Geographically speaking, this is something that would include Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The crux of the matter is that Egypt’s policy with regards to dealing with Israel is between one state and another; this does not represent an alliance between two states. This is the essence of the change in the new Egyptian political attitude towards Israel, unlike the policy of the former [Egyptian] regime.

In fact, amending the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty in accordance with the changes that have taken place in reality [in Egypt] is a fait accompli and does not require negotiations and written amendments. Perhaps Egypt’s warning to Israel to stop its attack on the Gaza Strip and not to launch its planned large-scale military operation represents the practical expression of what I have indicated above.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017