Israelis did not have to wait long to find another ‘national treasure’ in Egypt. For several weeks now their national media has been awash with commentaries on Egypt. Most showered General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi with praise for his ‘bravery.’ Not for the first time, an Egyptian military general has been elevated to the status of folk hero in Israel. Al Sisi comfortably won the plaudits because he reversed Egypt’s march to democracy.
The overriding argument to emerge from Israeli officials, past and present, is that stability in Egypt is much more important than democracy and human rights. For Muhammad Morsi there was no question of choosing between the two; they complimented each other. This position, coupled with his Islamist origins, was reason enough to depose him.
More than the Gulf States which financed the coup, Israel has emerged as the principal beneficiary. Hence they welcomed the brutal suppression of the sit-ins and lobbied western governments to support the coup leaders. Abraham Ben Eliezer, the former defence minister, was unapologetic when he told The Marker that it was in Israel’s interest for the military to remain in power in Egypt.
Western condemnation of the atrocities perpetrated by the army and the Mubarak-era thugs was dismissed by Israeli officials and analysts. The Jerusalem Post pointed out that Israel feared such condemnation would weaken the new military-backed Egyptian government and strengthen the will of the Muslim Brotherhood. It thus recommended that the West abandoned its support for democracy and stop Egypt from falling into the hands of local and global Islamists.
Similar sentiments came from academic circles. Prof Abraham Ben Zvi of the University of Haifa wrote in Israelhayom that the coup paved the way for a new Middle East that was less extremist and more sympathetic to the West.
As for former justice minister Yossi Beilin, he went even further by suggesting that the US Congress should give President Obama special discretionary powers to change the law in order to allow the continued flow of aid to Egypt; even after its military deposed a civilian government.
In Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) made no secret of their opposition to demands to cut aid to Egypt. In July, they lobbied and defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul aimed at suspending aid to Egypt. In a letter sent to Sen. Robert Menendez, chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, AIPAC claimed that the amendment “could increase instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.”
That the Israel lobby should campaign on behalf of the Egyptian military is quite remarkable. If nothing else, it confirms the degree to which Israel and its operatives in Washington are convinced that the Egyptian army in its present form would never wage another war against them. The Ramadan War of 1973 was the last.
While they can neither trust nor rely on civilian politicians – especially those of the Islamist tradition – Israelis have absolute faith in the leadership of the Egyptian army. It would be suicidal for the latter to contemplate a war given that all of Egypt’s defence systems are made in America. President Morsi addressed this anomaly when he declared we will produce our food, produce our medicine and produce our weapons. In hindsight, that was enough to disqualify and overthrow him. He was not the man; Egypt must remain forever trapped in a cycle of dependency.
No amount of US or European military aid will compensate for the damage done the Egyptian army after the 3 July coup. Whatever its leaders may claim, the fact is they have emerged from this mess in a much weaker position. By launching a bloody war of attrition against their civilian population they now have less time and resources to spend on training and improving their military capability, much to the benefit and satisfaction of Israel. Their aim was always to weaken Egypt so that it would never be in a position to play any meaningful role in the future of the region, especially with regard to Palestine. In fact, a weakening of the Egyptian army means that the balance of power in the region will remain in Israel’s favour for a long time.
In the interim, Israelis will continue to profess that they are the only democracy in the region. And despite all its virtues they would never support or encourage it spreading; that would result in the empowerment of the region’s people, acting through their elected parliaments. It would change the nature of relations between Israel and its neighbours to one of mutual respect instead of hegemony.
For now, Israel will continue to champion the cause of the Egyptian military not because they love them but only because they protect its political and security interests.