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Could a Hamas/Egypt Deal Save Israel’s Bacon?

The rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood may not be so terrible for Israel after all.

While he hasn’t come out and said it outright, Mohamed Morsi has shown some signs of being open to a change in border policy between Egypt and the Gaza Strip—at least, that’s what Hamas is hoping for. The Times of Israel reports:

In Gaza, Hamas officials say that once Morsi settles into his job, they expect him to transform the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, now open only to select passengers, into a vibrant cargo route with free trade zones.

Such a new lifeline could keep Hamas in power for years, reviving an economy battered by a border closure Israel and Morsi’s pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, imposed after the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.

One senior Hamas official said Gaza now has the chance to become semi-independent by relying on close relations with Egypt and cutting the last ties to Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was expressing a personal view.

But Morsi is in no rush to open the borders:

But for now Morsi is keeping Hamas at arm’s length, focusing on his relationship with Egypt’s powerful military and with the US, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

This speculation may be a bit premature. Morsi, after all, has a lot on his plate domestically already before turning to Gaza.

But if the Morsi administration eventually goes ahead with this plan, it would change the Egypt-Gaza-Israel relationship in a big way. Gaza could become a de facto protectorate of Egypt, a statelet closely tied to Egypt, and the remaining ties between Gaza and the West Bank would start to fray. This would leave the West Bank to negotiate with Israel on its own while Gaza charted its own path in orbit around Egypt.

Many observers assume that any agreement between Egypt and Hamas that opened Gaza to trade would pose a threat to Israel. There would certainly be problems, and it would be easier for Hamas or for more radical groups to get arms. But there’s another side to the story. Deeper economic ties between Egypt and Gaza will give Cairo much more influence over the Strip and Cairo needs reasonably smooth relations with Israel to focus on its own economic development. Egypt may not like its peace treaty with Israel but it cannot afford a war. It is particularly averse to the idea that a handful of hot headed radicals in Gaza could drag all of Egypt into an unwanted war.

Oddly, solidarity between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas just might play into Israel’s hands. At that point, it would be looking at a de facto three state solution with two small (and mutually hostile) Palestinian statelets. Gaza wouldn’t recognize Israel but it wouldn’t be able to fight it, and putting Gaza under Egyptian tutelage would also get Israel off the hook in terms of being criticized internationally for the blockade.

Nothing is risk free in the Middle East and nothing is perfect, but if I were an Israeli political leader, I just might be pleased to see Gaza and Cairo growing closer together.


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  • PetraMB

    Israel’s bacon, Professor Mead??? Most unkosher title ever…

  • art.the.nerd

    > Could a Hamas/Egypt Deal Save Israel’s Bacon?

    I can only assume that you *meant* the cognitive dissonance in this ill-chosen metaphor. I look forward to your next op-ed, “Romney Aborts Discussions of Rice as VP”.

  • Kris

    You recidivist, you.

    To the point, all true enough, but Israel too does not wish to jeopardize its peace with Egypt, such as it is. If rockets are fired from within a de facto Egyptian protectorate into Israel, it would be difficult for Israel to respond. (This situation already exists to some extent in the Sinai.)

  • Lorenz Gude

    I think the real metaphoric gambit is “Can a cobra change its spots?” These MB dudes are moderate democrats who’s expressed aim is to make Jerusalem their capital – and unexpressed (in English) aim is to exterminate the Jews.I say viva moderate democracy and pass the ammunition!

  • JimK

    Yeah and I suppose Egypt could pick up the slack and take over supplying aid to Gaza from Israel.

    Fat chance.(chicken schmalz, that is)

  • Haim

    Walter, you insist on being rational on behalf of Hamas. Well, the history teaches us differently – Hamas will use the Egyptian umbrella to lob more rockets into Israel and further provocations on the Sinai border, with the explicit goal to cause a rupture between Egypt and Israel. That’s it’s goal, after all. The second part of your equation – that MB in Egypt doesn’t want a war – is also flawed. MB figures it can’t lose. If it manages to put an army in Sinai and to do away with the demilitarization clause of the peace treaty, it will humiliate and endanger Israel and score huge points at home and in the Arab world (big help against deepening economic troubles). MB counts that under current management, US will do nothing to stop Egypt from reasserting it’s sovereignty in Sinai – after all, Obamaites blame Israel already. If there’s a war and Egypt loses, then, first, Obama will not allow Israel to enjoy it’s victory, and, second, there will be talk about “helping Egypt to rebuild”. Moreover, if the war will go south, the ones to blame will be the generals, who are too pro-American and too timid against the Zionists. Army will lose its clout, power and economic empire. So, yes, I think the MB intents to take Egypt as close as possible to a war with Israel, and maybe even beyond the point of no return.

  • Walter Sobchak

    A very interesting speculation. Just to follow it a few steps down the road, wouldn’t the logical denouement be the West Bank, minus whatever Israel keeps, becoming a province of Jordan? We could have a 50 year circle back to the status quo ante-bellum sort of.

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