Egypt’s internal strife spells disaster for Israel – Part 1
When the Egyptian people converged at the Tahrir square (now renamed Matyrs’ square) demanding the dismissal of Hosni Mubaraq and the end of his 30 years autocratic rule, it is Israel that will suffer a great strategic loss.
Israel’s very own existence has never been owed to her own defiance and indifference to world opinion. But rather her survival rest entirely on strategic alliance with unlikely partners rightly dubbed by a correspondent from Haaretz, Israel’s own media, as strange ‘bedfellows’. Dawn with the reality of a Jewish State in ‘a sea of Arabs’ leaves Israel with no choice but to seek potential allies from the very enemies she is surrounded with. Surprisingly such potential allies are in no short supply, and much to our chagrin, reliable too.
In her early years of illegitimate existence, Israel has been counting for protection from the west. Apart from American sponsorship, Israel has been relying on the French colonies in North Africa. But the cold war has brought forth new realities in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria has been courted by the Soviets in the run up to the Suez canal attack by Israel, British and French forces in 1956. The coordinated attack landed Israel with a swift victory, capturing Gaza strip and Sharm-ul-syeikh. However following American ‘advice’ with assurance to keep the Egyptians in check, Israel withdrew to the 1949 borders without gaining any concessions from Egypt. By then Israel realized, she has to forge alliance with trusted and reliable regional partners. At first non-Arab countries were on the list. Turkey, Ethiopia and Iran would make good candidates. Turkey was the perfect choice, as it was among the first country to recognize Israel in 1949, and has long been in a secretive alliance with Israel that went back to the 50’s. Being notoriously secular and anti-Islamist (or rather anti-Islam) Turkey forged a ‘ghostly ties’ with Israel especially in defense. Israel pilots were given permission to train in Turkish airspace and in return Israel will invest on refurbishing Turkey’s military aircraft and other high-tech military equipment. The military pact has since extended into economic relations. In 2009 bilateral trades between both countries reached USD2.5 billion. Turkey is crucial for Israel’s security especially to her northern borders where hostile Syria and Lebanon are a real security concern. Having a tripartite military pact with the US and Turkey may give Israel some form of ‘feel safe factor’, although in reality that may not be so, as events of the 1983 (suicide bombings on the US military base in Beirut) and 1992 (Israel’s withdrawal from her southern Lebanon enclave) have shown.
The complete control (nationalization) of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Gamal Abd Nasser which lead to the Suez Canal war of the same year was actually a premeditated move to block Israel’s access to the crucial waterway. In fact threat of annihilation of Israel has been resonating in the streets of Cairo long before the declaration made by Egypt’s then Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah-ud-Din in 1954, “The Arab people will not be embarrassed to declare: We shall not be satisfied except by the final obliteration of Israel from the map of the Middle East (Al-Misri, April 12, 1954).” Nasser who saw himself as the leader of the Arab nations and their savior from the Zionist onslaught proclaimed “I am not solely fighting against Israel itself. My task is to deliver the Arab world from destruction through Israel's intrigue, which has its roots abroad. Our hatred is very strong. There is no sense in talking about peace with Israel. There is not even the smallest place for negotiations.” Those strong words reverberated across the Arab nations and bind them in a joint resolve to crush the Zionist state. Syria and Jordan sealed a tripartite alliance with Egypt less than two weeks after Nasser’s fiery words, putting the latter at the supreme command of all three Arab armies.
The outcome of the Suez Canal war was a total let down for the Arabs. Nevertheless it served as a very important reminder to Israel that her lifeline, i.e. the Suez canal has to be safeguarded at all cost. The Suez Canal and the whole length of the Red Sea has to be rid of hostile forces. Keeping the sealane safe from Egyptian threat would be a daunting task. Therefore having a grip on the horn of African would be Israel’s next strategic move. That opportunity present itselfs in 1960 when there was an attempt by a section of the army to oust the Ethiopian President Halle Sellassie I. Israel intervened and helped the Ethiopian government to crush the rebellion. At the same time Ethopia also came under attack by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) allegedly sponsored and armed by the Arab states. This gave Israel a strong pretext to help Ethopia in dealing with an Arab threat in the African region. Fearing the birth of an Arab independent Eritrea would block Israel access to the red sea, the latter send military advisors to both the Governor of Eritrea and troops to the Ethiopian government. What was supposed to be an entirely African internal strife quickly developed into an Arab-Israeli conflict, now fought in the horn of Africa. By 1967, Israeli military achieved complete control of Eritrea, assuring a safe southern end of the red sea. That same year, Egypt and all Arab nations faced the most humiliating and disasatrous defeat to Israel in what was popularly known as the six day war. This time not only Suez was taken but the whole of the Sinai peninsular, East Jerusalem (where Al-Aqsa mosque is), the West bank, Golan Heights (Syria) and Sheeba Farms (Lebanon). Gamal Abdul Nasser image as the symbol of Arab freedom and dignity was severely tarnished.
To be continued..
Dr Hafidzi Mohd Noor
PACE (Palestine Centre of Excellence)