The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Israel And Egypt Gear Up For A Fight?

According to the latest polling from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a majority of Egyptians want to ditch the peace treaty with Israel:

Most Egyptians favor overturning the 1979 peace treaty in which Egypt became the first Arab country to formally recognize Israel. Roughly six-in-ten (61%) want to annul the treaty, up slightly from last year (54%). Just under a third (32%) want to maintain it.

Opposition to the treaty has grown significantly over the last year among young people and the highly educated. Support for annulling the treaty has increased by 14 points among 18–29 year-olds and by 18 points among the college-educated.

Meanwhile, Egypt and Israel are at each other’s throats over Egypt’s cancelation of a Mubarak-era natural gas export deal. Egyptian officials insist the decision wasn’t politically motivated but stems from Israel’s failure to pay for the gas. Israel depends on Egyptian natural gas for 40 percent of its energy needs.

The rhetoric on both sides is escalating. Israel’s Finance Ministry called Egypt’s decision ”a dangerous precedent that casts clouds over the peace agreements and the atmosphere of peace between Egypt and Israel.” Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi warned that Egypt’s border was “perpetually in danger.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Egypt was a “greater threat than Iran.” Egyptian officials have said they were well within their rights to cancel the deal—a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman called the decision “excellent.” In response, Israel appears to have mobilized six reserve battalions to defend the border with Egypt, as well as Syria.

For an Egyptian government in turmoil and in need of cash, picking a fight with Israel over natural gas serves no one. Israel on its part would also be wise to avoid antagonizing the country that supplies so much of its electricity. Several experienced Middle East watchers have suggested that the United States, which has close relations with both the Egyptian and Israeli governments, should step in to mediate and also bolster security forces in Sinai, which is largely lawless desert full of smugglers and fighting tribes. As Steve Cook writes, ”If the United States does not wake up to the danger that the Sinai poses and the Israelis are forced to respond to a terrorist attack from the Sinai, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is over.”

Published on May 9, 2012 12:39 pm
  • Geoff M

    It would be extremely difficult for Israel not to antagonize Egypt, since its existence is what antagonizes Egypt.

    But, Israel should do what it can to keep Egypt at bay until it can get its domestic natural gas fields on line. Then it can turn off the supply from Egypt and then we can all see how well a bankrupt country can feed its population.

  • Mike H. in Spokane

    ”If the United States does not wake up to the danger that the Sinai poses and the Israelis are forced to respond to a terrorist attack from the Sinai, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is over.”

    It was over during the Arab Spring! Now they’re watching the disintegration of the paper it was written on.

  • toadold

    The problem is that a whole generation of Egyptians have forgotten what fighting Israel is like. Israel is much, much, more capable than the last time they had a fight. If a war starts between them, how long before Israel is occupying the gas fields.

  • http://joelengel.com Cassandra

    ”If the United States does not wake up to the danger that the Sinai poses and the Israelis are forced to respond to a terrorist attack from the Sinai, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is over.”

    That’s exactly what it appears Egypt wants. The Muslim Brotherhood is Nasser redux in terms of pan Arabism.

  • nadine

    The Egypt-Israel peace treaty is already over. The Muslim Brotherhood is just biding its time (and restraining Hamas) until it consolidates power. Then Egypt will be in chaos, and the new MB rulers will need a distraction. Israel will fill the role.

  • RKV

    “the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is over.” You say that like its a bad thing. Egyptians are going to need to be defeated, again. They want a war with the Jews. It’s that simple. They will lose, at least in the short run (maybe a Romney administration will resupply the Israelis, an Obama administration not so much). Americans then get to stop borrowing money from the Chinese to pay baksheesh to the Egyptian junta. And the Egyptian masses will starve.

  • Jack

    It is a pity that so few are recognizing that Egypt’s stance seems to be based more on Islamic Supremicism than on economic imperialism.

    But the ‘blame the evil Joooos’ parties of Egypt do have a winning populist movement to exploit.

  • AD-RtR/OS!

    If the Egyptians unilaterally abrogate the Camp David Accords, et al, who do they think is going to keep providing them with $3B/yr to support their failed economy?

  • PTL

    As Abba Eban said of the Palestinian Arabs “they never miss a chance to miss a chance.”
    True about the rest of the Arab world.

  • Dubi Yarden

    You are casting erroneous aspersions on Israel. Israel is mobilizing because of Sinai terrorists, not “in response” to Egypt’s breach of contract.

  • Brett

    I can’t say I’m surprised. The treaty has never been popular with most Egyptians, so you would expect a more representative government to want to annul it.

  • Stephen

    If the US doesn’t wake up to the danger? Cook believes that State and Defense are oblivious to this? I don’t, and I don’t think Cook does. Hmm…who else in the US could he have in mind with the capability to shape military and diplomatic policy?

  • crypticguise

    It looks as though the Israelis are going to have to teach the Egyptians another lesson in reality.

  • WigWag

    Speaking of Israel, how long ago was it when Sarkozy was caught on an open mike complaining to President Obama that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a liar? Obama seemed to express his sympathies with this notion and bemoaned the fact that he had to deal with Netanyahu every day.

    Netanyahu must really be laughing his @$s off. After all Sarkozy’s been tossed out of office by French voters as if he was a day old macaron and Obama, who came into office sure that he could convince Israeli voters to dump Netanyahu, is fighting for his political life.

    In the meantime, the Israeli Prime Minister is stronger than ever and has a coalition that represents 80 percent of the Knesset.

    Doesn’t the old adage go something like he who laughs last, laughs best?

  • WigWag

    Maybe this sad state affairs will teach the Israelis a lesson. Possessing land that formerly belonged to it’s defeated enemies is a far better guarantee of Israeli security than any piece of paper signed by it’s Arab adversaries. If the piece of paper signed by the Arabs concerns peace, it’s not worth the parchment it’s written on.

    How much of a starry eyed lunatic do you need to be to believe that the Palestinians will be any more willing to honor any commitments they make than the Egyptians are?

  • Walter Sobchak

    The Egyptians are far to impecunious to start a war. They may cancel a treaty and refuse to sell gas. But Israel has its own gas off shore now, and Egypt couldn’t buy enough fuel and food to get its army to Israel, let alone over the border.

    Millions of Egyptians will die before their time in the next 30 years, but they will die from starvation, disease, and civil strife.

  • gringojay

    Egyptians don’t like Americans either despite all the baksheesh received. Israel knew all along the Egyptians didn’t like them & now doesn’t trust them.

  • justaguy

    A population that wants a religious war with a well-armed neighboring country is a country that believes the Geneva Conventions will protect the population and has never experienced or thought about the possible consequences of a religious war. At what point will civilian populations again become legitimate targets during military actions?

    The fact that the majority of a population is even discussing war with a nuclear armed power should be absurd but somehow isn’t. I don’t think that it has been so long since the last genocide that the world has forgotten.

    Do the Egyptians think that the Russians are going to come to their rescue if they lose or that the impact of war will not severely affect them? What a world we have become.

  • hdgreene

    Patience. Considering the “Law” Egypt may soon adopt, Lawless will look better in a year or two.

  • http://datechguyblog.com datechguy

    I think that self government is good but it comes with responsibility.

    If Egypt wants war with Israel that’s on them, when Egypt loses that war dramatically with mass slaughter that’s on them too.

    Piece of advice for Israel: next time you take Sinai, keep it.

  • BigSoph

    Why would Obama want to prevent a war against Israel? It is part of his goals, to make the Arab world like him more.

    My apologies, I should have said “like Him”

  • James

    Is there any more information on whether Israel actualy owes any additional money for the gas? From the linked article, the company is a joint Eygpt-Israeli company. Is there some special agreement for reduced price for the gas that Eygpt is now questioning or is it a legitimat lack of payment.

  • Xiaoding

    To eliminate the Soviet Union as a threat, make sure the Communists win.

    To eliminate Eygpt as a threat, make sure the Islamics win.

  • EvilBuzzard

    Oh come on…You know The Banksters have it coming. They have the audacity to mess up our Arab Spring.

    The Muslim Brotherhood is just a social fraternity. (When they aren’t forcibly clitorectomizing 13 year-old girls). They believe in open Democracy. (After they’ve counted the votes ahead of time).

    They want peace and co-existence (for certain, limited values of co-existence). And seek to make Egypt a greater and more Modern Nation. (By the standards of the Caliphite that chased out the last Sellucids in 700AD or so).

  • Rafael Chatav

    Israel did not mobilize its reserves in response to Egypt’s cutting off its (previously contracted) natural gas supplies to Israel, as the writer in correctly states.
    This was done in response to weapons smuggling and terrorist attacks. Recall that last year such an attack in the southern Negev resulted in Israeli citizens’ and tourists’ death.

  • Gary

    Mr. Mead…you seem to forget that Israel recently discovered several TRILLION cubic ft. of nat gas. and that is suppose to begin powering the country by next year. Better to bridge the gap with coal, or LNG shipped in then to roll over for Egypt. As a human being, I am sick and tired of their racist anti-Jew, anti-Israel, anti-West propaganda. No need for us to fund our enemies any more. Sick of it…

  • Manford Lawrence

    I see the Arab world as having four basic products..Sun, Sand, Petroleum & gas..When only sun and sand remain they are through.Their population growth will result in massive starvation…Jews and Arabs are cousins so where is the racist element? The best thing that happened to Russia was shedding all those Islamic Republics..One for Russia…