Why Israel Shouldn't Worry About the Egyptian Conflict
The last few weeks have been trying times in Egypt. Massacres of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Islamist attacks on nearly 100 churches across the country, and a so-called “War on Terror” on high-profile figures in the Muslim Brotherhood have all been underway. Polarization is at an all-time high and political instability continues to threaten safety on the streets. In all the turbulence and tragedy of the last couple of weeks in Egypt, perhaps one of the few things we can be relatively sure of is the maintenance of relations, however cold, between Egypt and Israel. Breaking the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty simply wouldn’t be in the current Egyptian government’s interest, something that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the de-facto ruler of the country, and his interim cabinet are no doubt well aware of.
Though al-Sisi has previously written that Israel is in fact an obstacle to democracy in the region, he is unlikely at this point to stir up any tension that would have risk breaking the Camp David Accords, the peace treaty signed in 1979 that began a long, stable, yet cold peace between the two countries and began a legacy of a close relationship between the U.S. and Egypt. The U.S. brokered the deal and still sends Egypt a yearly sum of aid to support the military, totaling over a billion dollars annually. This sum has become part of the lifeblood of the military, which has vast economic influence in Egypt.
Why exactly is the military such a big deal in Egypt? The military has been an institution that has been integral to the country’s governance and economy since the 1952 coup that ended British rule. The military elite owns over a quarter (perhaps more) of Egypt’s economy, and is an essential organ to the country’s economic survival because of this. Considering how much the economy has suffered due to political ups and downs in the last couple of years, economic stability within the military is becoming necessary for institutions they own to stay afloat. Without American aid, that may be near impossible.
We are already seeing evidence of the cold peace continue smoothly between the Israeli government and interim government in Egypt. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak very directly supported General Sisi and even stated the world should support him. Despite the army's massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters two weeks ago, Israel has kept silent — something that's reassuring for relations between the countries. Any significant action to break the peace would put American aid to Egypt’s military at risk, and thus put at risk the continuing affluence of the military in Egyptian society.
Both Egypt and Israel are preoccupied with their own issues, which makes it unlikely that any drastic, inflammatory action on the part of General Sisi will happen. Of course it may be too early to tell how the Egypt-Israel relationship will move forward, especially as Egypt is still in the process of recovering from the previous weeks’ events. Rhetoric against Israel’s policies is almost certain to occur. Perhaps General Sisi will make gestures to suggest that he is taking a stand against foreign powers, as he did with Turkey and Qatar already. However, given that the same players are still ruling the country and ultimately deciding its foreign policy, it’s very likely that status quo will remain for the time being.