And the corollary to this is, “What to Include?” This part of the world is so turmoiled that it is impossible to write intelligently about more than a small portion of what is occurring.
But I would like to begin by turning back for just a moment to what I wrote about last with regard to nuances in the Egyptian situation.
I was not saying things were good in Egypt. Most certainly not. Matters are pretty grim. Nor was I claiming that it was a certainty that the military would at some point wrest control of the situation again. And I certainly was not saying that the pullback of the military represents some victory for “democracy” or civilian rule. The Brotherhood is the worst of possible alternatives and I not delude myself about the intentions of this group.
What I was saying, and will continue to say, is that I have information that the military is not finished, at least as of now.
My source, who is savvy, enormously well-connected and speaks Arabic, is telling me — and I’ve double-checked with him and discovered similar thinking in opinion pieces in the Egyptian English press — that at this moment the military still retains power but made a conscious decision not to wield it when Morsi flexed his muscles.
The army had slipped up and was actually looking pretty bad: Because their guard was down, terrorists in the Sinai were able to kill 16 soldiers and wound others. A military decision was then made, I’m being told, to assume a low profile and allow Morsi to struggle with a near impossible situation that may ultimately — that they are hoping will! — confound him. One Egyptian press opinion piece I read said that the military was regrouping, consolidating its strength.
What will follow from this point is not a sure thing. Is there truly a possibility of the military reasserting itself? Or will Morsi, from his current position, in time be able to undo it with finality? Tantawi’s replacement, al-Sisi, is not Brotherhood but might he be replaced in time by someone who is? Factoring in nuances makes predictions more difficult.
This situation perhaps reflects the condition of most of the Middle East, where nuances and complexities abound. It’s probably wise to mistrust glib predictions and certainties. For example, some commentators, over-estimating the strength of rebels, were certain that Assad would be finished months ago.
Right now, with regard to Egypt, all eyes are on the Sinai. The Egyptians do seem serious about taking on jihadist terrorists who have made the Sinai their base of operation, their storage center for weaponry (including some very sophisticated weaponry coming from Libya), and their refuge, with hiding places even in various caves in the desert. There are reports that Egypt is about to take on a large number of caves in Mount Halal near the border with Israel, where some 3,000 terrorist fugitives, protected by Bedouin tribes, are said to be hiding.
Israel gave the Egyptians permission, after those 16 soldiers were killed, to bring in weaponry and troops to go after the terrorists with significant force. There was criticism of the government then, for permitting in more than is allowed by the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which calls for a demilitarized Sinai as buffer between Egypt and Israel.
I was not prepared to criticize the Israeli government on this at the time and still am not.
While there is diplomatic communication between the two countries, it is relatively tenuous. Israel considered it unwise to be in the position of preventing Egypt from bringing in forces and equipment to do the job (a job, it should be noted, that impinged upon national honor regarding avenging the soldiers’ murders).
This would have badly soured what is left of the Jerusalem-Cairo ties and invited repercussions down the road. (And I suspect that Egypt would have publicly accused Israel of blocking an opportunity to take out terrorists.)
In addition to which, Israel also wants those terrorists — who represent considerable power and this point and whose ultimate goal is killing as many Israelis as possible — to be taken out with maximum effectiveness.
The question that hung over it all was whether the requested forces and equipment would be brought out of the Sinai at the end of the operation (whenever that would be). It was certainly not Israel’s intention that this military force should remain permanently.
All this said, Israel, caught between a rock and a hard place, agreed.
But now the parameters of the situation have expanded, with reports regarding anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles being brought into the Sinai by the Egyptians.
I am not going to deal with specifics because they are unclear. My key military source in the government is not providing a modicum of information — nor did I really expect that he would. A competent military journalist I contacted says this military equipment is in the Sinai already. Another major commentator says there is no verification of this fact.
There is talk that Israel knew and gave the nod for this (along with the other equipment being brought in) and sources that say Israel did not know. The vast likelihood is that Israel indeed did not know. (See following.)
The fact that the terrorists have neither aircraft nor tanks, against which Egypt needs to act, would make the introduction of these missiles very ominous. And yet Israel has her plate full and then some: a direct confrontation with Egypt is certainly not in the offing.
According to Eli Bardenstein, writing in Maariv (in Hebrew), PM Netanyahu has sent a stern message to Cairo — via the US because direct communication with Egypt is tenuous — requesting that tanks Egypt had brought into Cairo be withdrawn immediately and that Egypt cease sending additional military forces into the Sinai without prior coordination with Israel, because this would represent a serious violation of the peace treaty.
This is about tanks and troops. If this does not sit well with Israel, there is no way missiles would have been approved. And all the more so would Israel undoubtedly register a protest if missiles have been introduced into the Sinai. How Egypt will respond to such messages, if at all, is unclear.
A couple of people have contacted me to say that since the US signed on the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty as witness, the Americans have a responsibility to see that the terms are observed. But it is my understanding that a witness is not legally a guarantor. A witness simply attests to the fact that those signing are who they represent themselves as being. And I’m not picking up anything about an Israeli request that the US intervene.
However, Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center, has a different take with regard to US involvement. See her article, “Egypt Fully Remilitarizing Sinai – with US Help”:
Lastly, let me mention briefly the situation regarding Iran. For anyone who monitors the news and has eyes to see, it’s clear that sanctions and diplomatic efforts will not stop Iranian nuclear development, which is proceeding at an alarming rate.
At the same time, Iranian hate language and genocidal threats against Israel are on the increase: Ayatollah Khamenei, recently stated publicly that “Zionism is a danger for entire humanity” and that Israel “is a cancerous tumor…in [the] heart of [the] Muslim world.”
While just days ago, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that “the very existence of the Zionist regime is…an affront to all world nations.”
So THE question is whether Israel will hit Iran, presumably before the US election in November. There is good reason to think this might happen, but I must confess that the prime minister has not whispered in my ear on this. It is likely that only he and Barak and a very small handful of key persons know, if at all the decision has been made yet.
I do no want to belabor details unduly, because I believe this is not in the best security interests of Israel. I will say only the following:
Israeli leaders are determined that we and only we should be responsible for our security. This is a matter of policy, born of painful experience (see Meotti below).
It is well understood here that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak are in favor of an attack. What is more, Avi Dichter — former head of the Shin Bet, Israeli internal security — has very recently been sworn in as Homeland Security Minister, replacing Matan Vilnai. He is said to be the deciding Cabinet vote in favor.
HOWEVER, there are a host of complexities to which we are not privy to be factored into the final decision.
I’m picking up rumors — I do consider them rumors and not authoritative information — regarding readiness by Obama to commit solidly, in writing and via public declarations, to a US attack on Iran after the election — in order to preclude an Israeli attack prior to the election.
There is even talk about the US providing Israel with more powerful weaponry (e.g., the strongest bunker busters, which would allow Israel to hit after the nuclear installations had been buried underground). This would give Israel a wider window of opportunity for attacking, presumably extending the time until after the election.
My own attitude is that I’ll believe this when I see it. What would Obama gain by waiting until after the election if he were required to make very public statements prior to the election about a firm commitment to attack?
You might want to see Guilo Meotti’s piece, in which he asks, “Will America forsake Israel, again?”
“Israel must remember that she is America’s ally and client, not its ‘friend.’
“The first US presidents after Israel was established, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, gave nothing to the Jewish state. And we were in a time when the ashes of Auschwitz were still warm, while today the memory of the Holocaust is fading. Truman maintained a US embargo against arms sales to the Israeli and Arabs, which was effective only against Israel. In 1948, it was US pressure which forced Israel to withdraw from Sinai where Israeli forces were pursuing the defeated Egyptians.
“In 1960 the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann was apprehended by Israeli agents in Argentina and flown to Jerusalem for trial. Argentina turned to the UN Security Council, asking it to condemn Israel and order Eichmann’s return. Washington intended to support the Argentinean complaint and only the furious reaction of Israel’s foreign minister Golda Meir dissuaded Washington.
“Prior to the Six Day War, Abba Eban approached Lyndon Johnson and all he got was an arms embargo on the Middle East. In 1970, at the height of the War of Attrition, the US turned down an urgent Israeli request for security assistance.”
And consider this statement by David Wurmser, former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s adviser on the Middle East:
“I have all my life counted on the greatness of America and its tradition of doing the right thing, if even at the last moment. But right now, the cavalry is not going to ride to Israel’s side, even at the last moment…
“There is nobody of influence within the establishment or bureaucracy in Washington…seriously arguing for pre-emptive action, nor are there any factors in the next half year — or even longer — which will change that…
“…sadly, our allies are on their own.”
And so, if you have seen the reports to which I refer, I advise only that you consider them with healthy skepticism and not allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
The only thing that potentially makes sense is the US arming Israel so that we ourselves have a greater capacity to act. The US might conceivably do that to serve its own ends, not Israel’s.
Sarah Liebovitz-Dar, writing a piece that was originally in Maariv in Hebrew, as well, writes that:
“…six secret American bases are spread out throughout the country [Israel]. According to foreign reports, these depots are chock-full of ammunition, smart bombs, missiles, an assortment of military vehicles and a military hospital with 500 beds.”
The question she asks is whether the us would open these depots to Israel, were we to unilaterally declare war on Iran.
In my next posting I look forward to doing good news segments, which we badly need.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.