Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil made history today, becoming the first senior official from that country to visit Gaza amid the worst violence the area has seen in several years. The IDF has been locked in a clash with Hamas for three days, where hundreds of Israeli airstrikes have been met by hundreds of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas.
The visit is unprecedented but not terribly surprising given the Muslim Brotherhood’s take on Israel and Palestine. As the WSJ reports, Qandil had some harsh words for Israel:
In a chaotic news conference at Shifa Hospital amid hundreds of reporters and blood-spattered doctors in white coats, Messrs. Qandil and Haniyeh struck a defiant note, blasting Israeli aggression and declaring a new unified front against Israel.
“It isn’t a matter of individuals, not a matter of community. It is a matter of a nation. The Arab nation, the Islamic nation,” Mr. Qandil said. “We are all behind you, the struggling nation, the heroic that is presenting its children as heroes every day.”
Qandil’s visit is a gesture of Arab and Islamic solidarity, but Hamas is looking for more. The group has been putting pressure on Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood to finally act on its anti-Israel rhetoric. But President Morsi is playing coy.
Egyptian support for Hamas has thus far remained strictly verbal. There have been no hints of military aid. The strong rhetoric and visit from the prime minister can be read as frantic efforts by Egyptian politicians to keep other Arabs from asking why Egypt’s Islamists are so passive when their neighbors are under attack. Rather than jumping into the fray, Morsi and Qandil are making lots of angry noises to retain their Islamist credentials while avoiding a confrontation with Israel that would inevitably end in a crushing defeat.
The last Egyptian who led his country into a war against Israel for the sake of looking tough was Nasser; the result was exactly the kind of horrible, stinging humiliation that the Muslim Brotherhood does not need — and would certainly get if Israel and Egypt were to clash. It’s important to remember at times like this that the ferocious rhetoric of Israel’s enemies is in part simply a reflection of their weakness and impotence before the Jewish state. They cannot actually bite, and so they bark and bark and bark. The concept of a great Islamist upsurge throughout the Middle East, reversing centuries of humiliation and defeat, depends on avoiding at all costs a conflict which could only lead to yet another morale shattering failure. It is, in other words, based in part on an illusion, and nurturing that illusion is a necessary part of the Islamist political dance.