While the current hot topic in Israel is whether or not to respond to the alleged “peace overtures” from Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator, a serious existential threat to Israel is being ignored. Egypt’s strategy of weakening Israel has been systematically overlooked by Israel’s political elites, not however by Likud Knesset Member Dr. Yuval Steinitz.
Steinitz, former chairman of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Knesset, has been a consistent critic of Egypt’s military build up against Israel. In late December, Steinitz riled against Egypt’s attempts to question Israel’s sovereignty in Eilat and the Southern Negev region. Steinitz has demanded that the Israeli government decline to meet with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Jerusalem until he is ready to declare Egypt’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city.
Recent reports of a special discussion in the Egyptian Parliament concerning Eilat and, Foreign Minister Gheit’s subsequent declaration that “Eilat is Palestinian territory,” is a direct attempt to undermine Israel’s sovereignty, according to Steinitz. He added, “Israel cannot be silent in the face of a Foreign Minister that cannot recognize Israeli sovereignty over Eilat - it is the same as not recognizing Israel sovereignty over Tel Aviv, Haifa, or Beersheba. It is unbelievable that after 25 years of peace, an Egyptian Foreign Minister would question Eilat’s status. If he had questioned our sovereignty over Nablus, it would have been one thing, but Eilat?”
Egypt’s strategy of eroding Israel’s sovereignty goes back to 1995 when Egypt’s President Mubarak secretly assembled experts to build a case for Egypt’s right to the Southern Negev. These subservient “experts” provided Mubarak with “proof “ that Egypt could demand large portions of Israel’s Negev. The Israeli Foreign and Security ministries knew about it and kept it to themselves, fearing a storm in Israel. Ultimately, President Clinton pressed Mubarak to drop the whole idea, and the matter received no publicity.
Steinitz is concerned that this attempt by Egypt to build territorial claims on the Southern Negev will serve as a pretext for an Egyptian military attack on Israel. He therefore insisted that Israel demand Gheit set the record straight regarding Eilat.
During Gheit’s visit to Israel in late December, he praised Israel’s restraint in the face of continued Kassam rockets raining on Israel. He excused the transfers of money from Egypt to Gaza by Hamas operatives. The ever-pliant Israeli politicians including Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni, and Defense Minister Peretz, failed to raise the Eilat issue, or Egypt’s military build up and the Egyptian aid to Hamas in their meetings with Gheit. Prime Minister Olmert has eagerly accepted President Mubarak invitation to meet him next week in Cairo in spite of the fact that Mubarak has never accepted an invitation to visit Israel.
Steinitz has been vocal about Cairo’s aid to Hamas, and regards Egypt as Hamas’ most reliable long-term supporter. “They do it cleverly, while covertly supporting Hamas they appear openly as supporting the moderate Palestinians.” He accused Egypt of looking the other way and allowing 20,000 automatic rifles to be smuggled into Gaza, enough he said to arm four to five divisions every year. Egypt provides 99 percent of the weapons that reach Gaza. Steinitz further noted that, “While Jordan has the longest border with Israel, there has been no weapon smuggling from Jordan. Egypt on the other hand, is intent on arming the Palestinians to fight against Israel.”
In various international forums, and especially at the UN, Egypt, more than Iran or Syria is the lead attacker of Israel. Egypt’s educational programming is replete with anti-Semitism, which is being reinforced by television productions that screen variations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Tsarist forgery more than 100 years old. Schoolchildren in Egypt are taught that the Jews are the source of all the evil in the world. Egyptian school maps substitute Palestine for Israel and little is taught about the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace or Camp David Peace Accords.
Secular-leftist Israeli politicians are more interested in maintaining the façade of peace than recognize the facts on the ground. The Israeli architects of the Oslo Accords protected their “peace” in spite of obvious breaches of the accord by Arafat’s incitement of the Palestinian masses to murder Israelis. The Palestinian schools taught and continue to teach hatred towards the Jewish State and its people, and still the Israeli leftists persisted in claiming that peace must be given a chance. Western Europeans found out after two bloody world wars, that teaching tolerance and outlawing hate propaganda are prerequisites for a real peace.
Egypt’s constant hate propaganda against Israel does not promote true reconciliation much less a permanent peace. American administrations are not blameless either. America has provided Egypt with over $70 billion in aid, including military. If America seeks a meaningful peace in the Middle East, it is time to hold regimes such as Mubarak’s in Egypt and Abu Mazen’s of the Palestinian Authority accountable. Peace requires more than a signature on a piece of paper - it is a state of mind and hinges on the values youngsters learn.
While Israel’s military planners are focused on Iran, Egyptian military exercises have Israel as its declared target. In the last five years Egyptian military units, including logistical support services and infrastructure, have been transferred to the Suez Canal area, on both the eastern Sinai and the western sides of the Sinai. They have transferred anti-aircraft units, aircraft, and missile batteries – an enormous expense - that the U.S. largely underwrites through our aid packages. Recognizing that Egypt does not face an external threat, there can only be one explanation for Egypt’s massive build up. It is time for Israelis and Americans to listen and react to Dr. Steinitz timely warnings.
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