Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Arlene Kushner: Clarifying What Is Happening Between Egypt And Israel In The Sinai

From Arlene Kushner
August 27, 2012

The Handle on Sinai

I had hoped -- deeply hoped -- to be able to turn my attention to matters other than the situation in the Sinai.  But the news there has loomed so large and seemed so ominous, that it merits on-going attention.  And so, once again, I begin with this subject.
This time, however, I believe I will be able to provide a bit more clarity about what's happening.
The news has been utterly confounding and filled with contradictions: Tanks have been brought in by the Egyptians to combat the jihadists with the permission of Israel; Israel did not give permission. The Egyptian Defense Minister al-Sisi called Israeli Defense Minister Barak and the two came to an understanding; there was no such phone call.
And, most recently: An Egyptian general came into the Sinai to negotiate with the jihadists and the efforts to take out the terrorists is over; Egyptians say they are continuing their efforts against the terrorists.
The information I have now secured is from a most reliable source -- an Arabic-speaking and very savvy Israeli academic with multiple connections.  He is in no way an apologist for the Egyptians. This is what he explained:
The jihadist terrorists are hiding in caves in the mountains (I have written about this) and thus tanks are worthless against them.  What is needed are infantry combat units and helicopters to bring them up to the mountain tops.
The tanks were brought in as a PR ploy, to show the Egyptian people the army is tough and doesn't need to abide by Israeli demands.  The intent here, however, is not to set up a situation that leads to war with Israel -- my source does not anticipate that Egypt will go to war with Israel, either in the short range, or even the "medium range" future.  Rather, says my source, the Egyptian government is attempting to counter or deflate the demands of those who call for breaking the peace treaty with Israel.   
One might argue that bringing in the tanks has broken the treaty.  And technically, this would be the case if Israel had not approved the move. But the intent here apparently was not to break it in all its parameters but, quite the contrary, to enable it to be saved.  The bravado was for internal consumption.
At the end of the day, will the tanks remain? This I cannot say.  Might the situation shift so that the  tanks would be drawn upon in a limited military action?  I have no crystal ball and so can not definitively rule this out. But what I can report is that a source I consider highly reliable has told me that it is not the intention of the Egyptian government to break the peace treaty and move towards war with Israel.         
There is little that the Israelis would be able to do overtly with regard to this situation except to break the peace treaty themselves by going into the Sinai after them; this is not in Israel's best interest now.  (This would be to invite war on Israel at a time that we must contend with Iran, and when, apparently, Egypt is not gearing up for attack.)  And so Israel has, essentially, agreed to the current situation.
There is still hope that the Americans might apply pressure on Egypt by threatening to reduce financial assistance.  It has been my understanding that the US would be reluctant to cut back on what is given to Egypt, and not only because of Obama's sympathies: As is the case with Israel, most of the financial aid given to Egypt by the US is for military equipment that must be purchased in the US.  In essence, the money does a U-turn and ends up again in US coffers. 
My source, however, said otherwise: there is a percentage of the funds provided to Egypt that can remain in the country and be utilized for such things as buying grain. For Egypt, struggling with overwhelming poverty, this matters.  And he has picked up in the Egyptian press a good deal of unease because of comments in this regard coming from Congress (which controls the purse strings).
In the meantime, the negotiations being held are not with the terrorists, but with the Bedouin who give them asylum: they live in the area around the caves, and protect the jihadists.
One of the problems here is that there are several tribes and each one must be negotiated with separately.  There have to be written agreements with each, with generous "perks" provided in all instances.
The goal in dealing with the Bedouin might be to get them to give up the jihadists -- allow the army to reach them in the caves.  Or, it might be to get the Bedouin to tell the jihadists that they -- the Bedouin --will continue to provide them with protection only if they remain quiet. 
And here's the catch for Israel: "quiet" would simply mean leaving the Egyptian army alone.  If that were achieved the Egyptians would consider they had achieved their goal. Remember, they had started their operation against the terrorists only when Egyptian soldiers were hit.  Were the terrorists to continue to cross the border into Israel, this would not unduly concern the Egyptian army.
In any event, it is far less than a sure thing that the negotiations with these Bedouin tribes will succeed. Says my source, "Agreements with these tribes are written on ice in the desert." 
What is more, the jihadists are more highly motivated than the Egyptian army.
The harsh reality then is that we will benefit only if the Egyptian army is successful in removing the jihadists -- and this is a very "iffy" prospect. There is a greater likelihood, I suspect, that whatever the Egyptian army manages to do in the Sinai, we will be as vulnerable to terrorist attack as ever.
As our leaders often make a point of saying, we must depend only upon ourselves.  We must sustain vigilance with regard to securing critical intelligence, continue to work on the fence at the Sinai border, and otherwise guard that border with patrols, etc. 
But as to the Egyptian army, the information I've secured makes the situation seem considerably less ominous -- we are apparently not at substantial risk of an attack across the border by the Egyptians.
As if there is not enough on our plates with the situation in neighboring states, we have to contend as well with an outrageous situation within Israel.  (And yes, what I am about to describe here I consider to be within Israel.) 
The issue "du jour" is the Jewish community of Migron.  Referred to as an "unauthorized outpost," it is situated on high ground in Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, in the Shomron (Samaria), 14 kilometers (some 8 miles) north of Jerusalem.  It is home to 50 families.
Credit: Indynews
The story of Migron is painfully familiar: It is all about what is Jewish land, and what Arab. And it involves an Israeli legal system that favors Arab claims.
I have written about this community before, and will be brief here.  It was founded in 2001 on land that was understood to be Jewish land -- on a hill where it was considered important to have a Jewish presence for security reasons because of a new road built nearby.
In 2006, Peace Now (yup, them again), acting ostensibly on behalf of local Arabs, brought a petition to the High Court demanding that the community be dismantled because it was on Arab-owned land.  Proper documentation of that Arab ownership has never been provided. The government, however, accepted the claim and the Court ruled that Migron had to be dismantled.
Following a number of delays, the Court set the 28th of August 2012 as the final time for evacuation of the community.  
However, even though the residents maintained throughout that they were on Jewish-owned land, an anonymous American Jewish philanthropist provided funds to re-purchase a portion of the land -- upon which 17 families live -- from  the Arabs who claimed it.  It was a legal purchase and the assumption was made that these families, at the very least, would be permitted to stay.      
The matter was submitted to the Ministerial Committee on Settlements, which said it had no problem with allowing the 17 families to remain.
The attorney-general, however, said that this was a legally "problematic" situation. The fact that our system permits an attorney-general the autonomy to go into court refusing to defend the position of the government is something I neither understand nor can explain.  Quite candidly, it makes me crazy.
At any rate, the High Court is supposed to make a final ruling tomorrow and there is, as well, expectation that all of Migron's residents, or all minus the 17 families, will be evacuated from their homes by the IDF.  A great deal about this is incomprehensible to me.   No one is certain what tomorrow will bring.
Many people have expressed support for Migron, for what may be happening there simply should not happen. Yesterday, Jeff Daube, who heads the Israel ZOA office, opened a satellite ZOA in Migron at the invitation of the residents, and held a press conference.   
A further complication in this crazy situation is that the caravans that the residents of Migron are supposed to move into are not ready.  The situation is unsafe for the many children who would be living there, as there are construction materials all over. The school building is not complete. And at least some of the caravans still lack electricity.  
Many, including myself, were deeply disturbed by a statement Minister of Security Affairs Moshe Ya'alon was reported to have made at yesterday's Cabinet meeting:  Those who resist evacuation will not be provided with places to live.  Excuse me?  And from Bogie?  The residents have said there would be no violence but they are talking about passive resistance.
I have already mentioned the Levy Report, with regard to its conclusions and recommendations.   It is in a case such as this one in Migron that the Report has considerable significance.  In due course I will be returning to this.
The Non-Affiliated Movement opened its conference in Iran yesterday, with the Iranian government playing the event to the hilt for PR purposes.
Much was made of the fact that delegates of 100 nations are participating: the Iranians delighted in noting that two kings, seven prime ministers, 27 presidents and one UN head were in attendance.  These two kings, seven prime ministers, 27 presidents and one UN head obviously have no compunctions about lending legitimacy to a genocide-threatening, renegade nation that should be ostracized. 
What we learn, again and again, is that the world does not give a damn. 
After a heated battle about whether Hamas or the PA should represent the Palestinian Arabs at this conference, it turns out that neither Abbas nor Haniyeh went.
Abbas met in Ramallah yesterday with MK Zehava Gal-On of the far left party Meretz.  Regrettable that she chose to undermine the government position -- when Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu. 
On the agenda of their discussion was a recent letter sent to the Quartet by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that there would be no progress in the peace process as long as Abbas was PA president.  He called for Abbas to be replaced in elections.
Lieberman was correct and also very mistaken.  There will be no progress in negotiations as long as Abbas heads the PA. But Lieberman is dreaming if he imagines that Abbas would be replaced by someone more genuinely moderate. It is the system and the entire cadre of PA leaders that is adamant in not negotiating genuinely with Israel.  If anything, with the influence of Hamas increasing, those representing the PA have become only more radical and intransigent.
All Lieberman achieved then was to provide Abbas with an opportunity to voice righteous indignation.
School started here in Israel today.  It proceeded without incident. But yesterday  three rockets were launched into the Sderot area.   A little known jihadist Salafi organization claimed credit.
© 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.
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