Sunday, December 11, 2011

Egypt and Israel

Since the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the US has worried over the makeup and future foreign policy of Egypt’s new government, especially in terms of its future relations with Israel. Some in the media and the government have voiced concerns that a new non-Mubarak revolutionary government will have a more antagonistic relationship with Israel, and very possibly withdraw its recognition. However, the recent prisoner swap between HAMAS and Israel has shown that while Egypt may become more vocal about its support of the Palestinian cause, it will not abandon its treaty with Israel.
In the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace treaty Egypt agreed to, among other things, recognize Israel and to agree to not attack it. In exchange, the US would provide economic aid to Egypt. Since then, the US has provided this aid, which now amounts to over 2 billion US dollars a year; 1.3 billion of this is military aid.
The Egyptian military, a powerful force in Egyptian government and society receives most of the aid money that the US sends to Egypt. As well as receiving funds, the officer corps receives training from the US. This arrangement has lead to strong military to military ties between the US and Egypt. The US has also benefited from the deal. Egypt is a purchaser of US military goods, its has protected Israel, a US ally, and has provided US ships with priority access through the Suez Canal.
Clearly it is not in the interest of the Egyptian military to break this arrangement. While they might publicly berate Israel and allow public protests against them (and their embassy), they seem to be continuing to honor the treaty in practice.
First, they have continued to patrol the Sinai border with Gaza. While in May they allowed crossings at Rafah, men between 18-40 still needed to apply for visa and travel permits. While this concession was made to the Palestinians, Egypt has maintained the blockade and does not allow shipments of goods across the border.
The Egyptian military also played a role in negotiating the return of Gilad Shalit in exchange for over 1000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. While this deal seems to favor HAMAS, it shows that despite the revolution, Israel trusts Egypt to act as a negotiating partner.
While the final government of Egypt is still uncertain, the military will not allow the new government (assuming that it doesn’t remain a military government) to break the treaty with Israel, despite how close to Palestine the new government appears.

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