By Barry Rubin
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
The Meaning of the Egypt-Israel Cross-Border Attack
By Barry Rubin
A 35-man seemingly bedouin terrorist team invaded an Egyptian army base in eastern Sinai, stole a truck and armored personnel carrier, and tried to crash the Israel border gate. They killed about 16 Egyptian soldiers but those who tried to cross the border--at least five--were quickly wiped out by Israeli forces.
You will be reading a lot of accounts of this event mostly saying the same things. But what’s really important?
--The incompetence of the Egyptian military. That a whole platoon size unit of terrorists--one of the largest such forces every assembled for such an attack--could plan, organize, and come together without warning for the Egyptian army speaks poorly for its intelligence capability. That they could break into a base doesn’t bode well for the Egyptian military's competence. Presumably one reason why they wanted Egyptian vehicles--as happened with uniforms on a previous occasion--is to make Israeli soldiers hesitate to shoot or to end up getting Israelis to mistakenly kill Egyptians and set off a wider conflict.
--The attack was probably carried out by an al-Qaida type group allied with counterparts in the Gaza Strip. These organizations don’t care about the well-being of Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. By hitting Israel they seek to promote their image to carry out their goals. Yet the more they make enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood branches the more incentive those forces have to suppress them.
--To what extent, however, do these groups have backing from Egyptian Salafist forces or the Palestinian equivalent, Islamic Jihad? Such an alliance could greatly raise the level of violence and internal conflict, especially within Egypt. Is there a chance for the Brotherhood and Salafists to work together or will they clash?
--The Brotherhood immediately blamed Israel for engineering the attack. This means something quite different when the Brotherhood was just an opposition group in Egypt. It is now the government. Consider what this means: the organization governing Egypt has accused Israel of launching an attack on Egyptian soil and killing a lot of Egyptian soldiers. Isn’t that a just cause for war? That’s not going to happen but situations like this will arise repeatedly in future and one day can lead to war.
--The Brotherhood will not even condemn al-Qaida. For example, the new government could have taken a different approach: These extremists are enemies of the Egyptian people because they endanger the state’s stability and economic success. It won’t even do that. So no matter how many cross-border attacks are staged from Egypt and Israel, Egypt will just deny responsibility and blame Israel. What likelihood is there that they will try to vigorously block them?
--Israel has now gotten to the point where it can protect itself from cross-border attacks. We are dealing here with open country where it is hard to sneak up on the border and well-distributed Israeli defense forces that can get to any point on the frontier very quickly.
So in strategic terms, such attacks are not a huge threat but on geopolitical terms the danger is rising steadily.
The U.S. government response is to offer to help train and assist Egypt’s army and government. But the government is not part of the solution but rather part of the problem.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 11:03 AM PDTJordan's Prime Minister Reads Rubin Reports and--guess what--doesn't like it!
By Barry Rubin
During a recent dinner in Amman, Jordan's prime minister Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh talked about me at some length, citing my article on Israel being in a good strategic situation. Apart from the various name-calling, insults, and snorting, he could not refute one point I made. In fact, I think he knows that everything I wrote was true. And that's what scares him and makes him angry.
What particularly upset him was my point that a Sunni-Shia conflict would displace the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jordan, of course, is caught in the middle, being a Sunni country with a long border to Iraq and fearing Iran, not to mention its border with a Syria still ruled by Iran's ally and nearby Lebanon ruled by Shia Hizballah.
But I think his attacking me was most unsporting. King Hussein read my articles years ago on a regular basis and I have had excellent relations with some members of the royal family and high-ranking Jordanian officials. I even advocated the Saudis and other oil-producers' plan to let Jordan into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and give Amman $1 billion.
Fayez, baby, don't me mad at me for passing along the bad news! And if there's anything I can do to help Jordan not be taken over by either revolutionary Shia Islamists who will want to put you up against a wall and shoot you, Sunni Islamists (most likely the Muslim Brotherhood) who will want to put you up against a wall and shoot you, or al-Qaida which won't even bother with the wall.
Also, we do have a spare guest room and you can be here within three hours by car.
In a similar vein, my good friend David Gerstman points out that a Palestinian leader given a New York Times op-ed to attack Mitt Romney for attributing Palestinian economic problems to cultural issues was at the center of a corruption scandal four years ago.
Mr. Gerstman put it this way:
The other day, the New York Times added the oddest critique to its campaign, Munib Masri's op-ed Occupation not culture, Is holding Palestinians back:
As one of the most successful businessmen and industrialists in Palestine today (there are many of us), I can tell Mr. Romney without doubt or hesitation that our economy has two arms and one foot tied behind us not by culture but by occupation."
"It’s hard to succeed, Mr. Romney, when roadblocks, checkpoints and draconian restrictions on the movement of goods and people suffocate our business environment. It is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of our Palestinian culture that we have managed to do so well despite such onerous constraints."
But as Barry Rubin pointed out four years ago in a column about Masri called None Dare Call in News Coverage
“Critics say some of the profits were made possible by a lucrative telecommunications monopoly the company held for several years.”
"We are not told from whence this monopoly came—from the PA. The word corruption is never mentioned. Such a lack of curiosity about the sources of his wealth does not accord with journalistic practices in covering other stories.
"Indeed, the story of the telecommunications monopoly is one of the best-known stories of corruption among Palestinians. How PA and Fatah factions competed over the loot, how Arafat intervened directly into the issue."
In other words if there was an exhibit of the problems Palestinian culture presented to the development of a functioning economy, Munib Masri would be a prime candidate. No doubt the editors of the New York Times don't expect its readers to know Masri's background; maybe they don't either.