Researchers at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) have advised Israeli politicians to allow the opening of the Rafah Crossing and lift the Gaza siege to avoid a potential military confrontation with Egypt.
The study, which was conducted by senior academic researchers from various disciplines, is based on an analysis of the discussions of Egyptian intellectuals on Facebook and the discourse of journalists since the victory of Muslim Brotherhood nominee, Mohammed Morsi, in Egypt’s presidential election.
The INSS is an external research unit for Tel Aviv University, which has strong ties with the political and military establishment. According to the institute, five key issues connected to Israeli-Egyptian relations dominated the discussions studied.
The prime issue is the unstable security situation in Sinai, which is the result of a lack of government control over the region’s Bedouin. “The greatest security challenge currently facing Egypt is the spread of terrorism and crime in Sinai due to ineffective governance and the lack of integration of the Bedouin tribes in wider Egyptian society,” the study stated.
The reason for this situation, it is claimed, is the neglect of the tribes by the ousted Mubarak regime which resulted in high rates of unemployment. Illegal activities such as “human trafficking; growing, trading and smuggling illegal drugs; weapons smuggling; and the smuggling of goods to Gaza” were nurtured. To free their members arrested in occasional security raids, the study claims that “kidnapping of Western hostages for the purpose of freeing prisoners” prevailed.
According to the study, Egyptians are aware that “Islamic fanatics” are consolidating their power in Sinai and so they fear that possible attacks against Israelis may lead to an Israeli response which will affect Egyptian interests. However, “there is awareness that Israel is not interested in escalation, and is therefore strengthening its defences.”
Nevertheless, warn the study’s authors, a military confrontation is inevitable because the Egyptian military is not able to control Sinai and, at the same time, there is no Egyptian plan to deal with the area’s problems.
Review of Peace Agreement
The INSS study stated that Egyptian social network users expect a review of the appendix of the Camp David peace agreement in order to increase the number of Egyptian soldiers deployed in Sinai.
Through the discussions, it is said: “Many hypothesize that the main reason the military has inadequate control in Sinai lies in the restrictions on the Egyptian military deployment dictated by the peace treaty.” As such, they believe that President Morsi is going to seize the opportunity to review the peace agreement in order to “bolster his popularity” and “embarrass the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” which has no clear position on this issue.
The institute’s researchers claim that there is no indication that there is any desire among Egyptians for a military confrontation, not least because “an entire generation has known no war”.
In the meantime, Egyptians do not want close relations and normalisation with the Israelis and would like to see a ban on visas for Israeli tourists. They also wish to downgrade diplomatic relations to the lowest level.
Decision makers, according to the study, say that the sole beneficiary of the peace agreement is the Egyptian military establishment which gave up protecting the area under the pretext of the treaty restrictions as well as the generous military and economic aid it gets from the US.
Populism or Pragmatism?
The study indicates that Egyptians want to know whether their president is going to be a populist or a pragmatist. Whether Morsi is going to increase his popularity at home or get involved in the affairs of Sinai and Hamas, a much more complex option. The study presumes that Morsi is going to juggle the two so as not to damage his popularity or that of the Muslim Brotherhood.
There are three possibilities for Morsi to do that. The first is to be a just mediator between Hamas and its rival Fatah on one hand, and between Hamas and the Israelis on the other. This, though, could lead to a confrontation between the Brotherhood and Hamas, which will not stand for such mediation.
The second possibility is the populist option through which the Brotherhood will replace Iran as the patron of Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood would have to supply Hamas with money and weapons in order to stop using Sinai for smuggling. “This policy has much potential for deteriorating into a direct confrontation with Israel,” says the study.
The third possibility is somewhere between populism and pragmatism. Because of the commitment made by the Muslim Brotherhood to the US to respect agreements signed by the previous regime, Morsi will mediate between Hamas and Fateh and between Hamas and Israel. At the same time, he will continue to stay in touch with his people to demonstrate his effort in this regard. If this option fails, Morsi could blame the Military Council “which holds responsibility for defence and foreign policy, thereby promoting the latter’s delegitimisation.”
Red lines for Hamas
The study indicated that there is a prevailing desire among Egyptians asking Morsi to “draw red lines for Hamas” and not to let it use Sinai to attack the Israelis. That, according to the study, will lead Morsi to open the Rafah Crossing and lift completely the Gaza blockade. This gives a sense of an Egyptian responsibility for Gaza which creates anxiety among Egyptians. However, according to the study, the Muslim Brotherhood government will not be able to follow the same steps that Mubarak’s regime took in “cooperating with Israel in its blockade of Gaza.”
Annexing Gaza to Egypt
The INSS study claims that “in the absence of any expectation of a political process between Israel and the Palestinians, the lack of an internal Palestinian rapprochement, the anticipated opening of the Rafah border crossing and the removal of the blockade, the special relations between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and the flying of the Egyptian flag in Gaza when Morsi was elected, there are hints of a trend towards annexing Gaza to Egypt.”
It added: “This opinion is strengthened by the desire of Gaza residents to be a part of Egypt as a practical solution to their problems.”
“Israel must act wisely”
The researchers concluded their study by calling on Israel to act wisely to “neutralise escalations” because Egypt is going to lift the siege and open the Rafah Crossing. They advise their leaders to “pre-empt” the unilateral Egyptian measures to avoid an unnecessary escalation.
They also expect that confrontation is “unavoidable… both because of the expected change in Egyptian policy towards Hamas and as a result of Egyptian helplessness in dealing with the challenges of government, terrorism, and crime in Sinai, as well as the current paralysis in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”