Israel, Egypt and the Elephant in the room

While his view of what is happening in Egypt is not different from what you or I can read in the paper, he did point out that the whole debate about whether the Muslim Brotherhood is a civic organization devoted to welfare or an Islamist organization is just a ridiculous debate. He reminded us that Hassan Al Banah, the Brotherhood's founder, clearly expressed anti-Modernity, anti-Western views which are still very much central to the ideology of the Brotherhood more than 80 years later. He also reminded us that Hamas states in the second article of its platform that "Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood". All this was expected.

What was unexpected is the picture he painted of Israeli preparedness for this situation. Let me just summarize the points:

- Israelis knew of the revolution in advance but they were convinced that the Regime would prevail (MISTAKE 1)

- In the more than thirty years since the 1979 landmark agreement with Egypt and the establishment of an Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Israelis did not develop relationships with any of the leaders of the Egyptian opposition (MISTAKE 2)

- Israel doesn't know anything about the military leaders now in power because it restricted its information gathering operations to the commanders of the troops in Sinai, neglecting the rest of the military hierarchy (MISTAKE 3)

- Israel decided to reduce its Intelligence operations in Egypt, the largest and most populous of the Arab countries, because "they took the situation for granted" (MISTAKE 4)

In short, Israeli intelligence was caught with its pants down and the best way to describe what they know about what is hapenning in Egypt today is "they are blind"

After the 1973 intelligence blunder that led to a longer and more protracted war than necessary, the Israeli people demanded the political heads of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan and rightly so...What will Israelis do as the knowledge of this new intelligence blunder becomes public? It all depends on how the situation plays out. If Israel comes out of this situation more or less in good shape, and the treaty with Egypt holds, and the Intelligence cooperation vis-a-vis Hamas and Gaza continues, all is well and people will forget. If, however, Israel is forced to pay a diplomatic or security price for the bluner, Netanyahu will be blamed for it, and rightly so again.

There are some Egyptian Presidential hopefuls who are calling for a revision of the Camp David Agreements, and others who are calling for a relaxation of the Gaza closure on the Sinai side. As a matter of fact, Egyptian troops in Sinai today are doing little or nothing to stop smuggling back and for to and from Gaza. What goes in and out? Nobody knows. Egypt has literally lost control of the situation in Sinai, which is now controlled by the Beduin militias that profit from people (and goods) smuggling. This is a very dangerous situation for Israel than could facilitate the rearming of Hamas. Israel is seriously considering changing the limits for Egyptian troops in Sinai (increasing the limit) agreed upon in the Camp David Accords to enable Egypt to regain control of the situation.

There is also the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have the support of barely 12 to 15 % of the Egyptian people, but their strenght is not in the numbers as much as it is in their ability to organize. They are today the only political group with a strong organization. Should the Obama administration insist on the six month deadline for elections, the Brotherhood might very well be the only political force organized enough to present candidates and/or run a succesful campaign. With the possible electoral result of a very fragmented Parliament and no clear majority force, we might be seeing a repeat of Germany, 1933, when a minority party took over the Reichstag because nobody else was in a position to do it. Egyptian social and political forces might need more time to get their act together after more than 30 years of a dictatorial regime...and Israelis cannot predict the outcome of the process because they lack information!

Unless Netanyahu gets very lucky with the outcome or he makes up fast for the intelligence blunders, he might end up paying a very high political price and may not even survive, as did neither Meir nor Dayan. Israelis can forgive mistakes, but not when it comes to the security of the country...


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