“The Egyptians do not accept what has happened, and it means that Israel should take care. If they continue their behavior toward the Palestinians and the peace process, it means that the situation will escalate more.”
In February, I predicted that Egypt’s democratic revolution would lead to a rise in regional instability, particularly between Egypt and Israel.
This past week, the two countries’ three-decade peace experienced a major setback after Israeli warplanes inadvertently killed three Egyptian security personnel in the Sinai. The warplanes were responding to Gaza-based militant attacks that killed eight Israelis earlier this week.
Increased Attacks Indicative of Egyptian Security Vacuum
In my February piece, I argued that “Hamas may also judge that now is the best time to strike while Israel’s attention is focused on Egypt, with Iranian helpers eager to provide weapons, training, and advice.” There does not seem to be any overt evidence that the Iranians are supporting Hamas in this case. However, it appears that Gaza-based militants have become more active recently. This increased activity may be a result of Egypt’s preoccupation with its own democratic transition, and reduced focus on stabilizing its border with Israel. In fact, according to The New York Times, Israel’s defense minister, “seemed on Thursday to blame lax Egyptian security for allowing the attacks near the border.”
Aggressive But Reasonable Israeli Response Leads to More Instability
Today, the Egyptian government announced that it would be recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv. The statement then mysteriously disappeared from the Egyptian cabinet’s website, after which the Israeli government offered a rare statement of regret for the three Egyptian deaths.
Israeli apology or not, the Arab street in Egypt is livid, and it wants blood. Thousands of protestors have surrounded the Israeli embassy in Cairo for the second night in a row, demanding the ambassador’s expulsion.
David Kirkpatrick and Isabel Kershner at The New Times sum up the situation rather cogently:
“By removing Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian but dependably loyal government, the revolution has stripped away a bulwark of Israel’s position in the region, unleashing the Egyptian public’s pent-up anger at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians at a time when a transitional government is scrambling to maintain its own legitimacy in the streets.”
The bottom line is that Egypt’s transition to democracy is entering an extremely unstable phase. The probability of a conventional war between the two states has increased dramatically — something that would have been unthinkable under Mubarak.