From Gaza to ISIS: Assessing Change in Today’s Middle East – Robert Satloff (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
(dailyalert.org, Sept. 16, 2014)
For Egyptians, their national security order of priority is Sinai (through which they also see a Hamas hand), then Libya, then ISIS and other regional problems. The threat from Libya spills into Egypt in terms of attacks on Egyptian troops and security personnel and weapons smuggling. We should not be surprised if a force led by Egypt and Algeria intervenes in the Libya conflict to prevent the jihadist groups there from running amok.
Egypt is building a second Suez Canal that will allow two-way traffic in the famed waterway. The plan is essentially “dig now, ask questions later.” No one could cite professional feasibility studies or other assessments of how Egypt is going to make money from this grand undertaking.
Egyptians of all stripes have contempt for Washington. Some are driven by conspiratorial views of U.S. policy, i.e., that the White House is controlled and directed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Among serious people it is born of what they see as the inexplicability of Washington being unable to see where U.S. interests lie. Egyptians want a relationship with Washington and can’t figure out why it isn’t happening.
During the Gaza war, the U.S.-Israel relationship was brought to the brink of real crisis; after intervening in the normal procedure for the disbursement of military goods to Israel, it will be difficult for the Obama administration to again say that the U.S.-Israel security relationship is unshakable. After all, it was just shaken, during wartime no less.
By the end of the conflict, a very real opportunity emerged – thanks to Egyptian-Israeli understandings – to change the dynamic in Gaza and leverage the outcome to begin the long process of shifting power there from Hamas toward the PA. This included the idea of linking reconstruction to disarmament, or at least preventing rearmament; the idea of conditioning international reconstruction efforts on PA security control of the crossing points; and the idea of conditioning the transfer of outside funds to pay local salaries on using only PA-controlled financial institutions, not Hamas. But one key player has balked – Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA.
I don’t believe a single word of the fantasy news stories that Sisi offered a piece of Sinai to the Palestinians to create a state. But one should appreciate the core reality – that Israel and Egypt view the regional situation in a similar way and act on that convergence of analysis and interests. This is one of the most hopeful elements of the Middle East today.
The writer is executive director of the Washington Institute.