It’s A Strange World

It’s a strange world when an objective account in a textbook is an extraordinary event. Nevertheless, it is a sea change when Egyptian textbooks discuss Israel factually. Detailing some of those changes, the Times of Israel of February 17 notes, ”The peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979 will for the first time be taught in Egyptian schools, Army Radio reported Tuesday. The station said a reporter had read the new schoolbook on Egypt’s modern history, which includes a chapter dealing with the Camp David agreement. The peace deal is described in a matter-of-fact way, without bias or any attempt to present Israel in a negative light, the report said. The authors of the Egyptian schoolbook, intended for the ninth grade, detail eight clauses from the agreement, which are reproduced in the book verbatim. These include phrases on Israel and Egypt“ending the state of war” and on “each side respecting the sovereignty and independence of the other side.”

Since President Sissi came to power (via a coup), relations between Egypt and Israel have warmed up. Both countries share a common objective of shutting down the Islamic terrorism that emanates from Gaza. Stopping the flow of goods into Gaza that can be used for military purposes is a joint, fairly successful effort by Egypt and Israel. Israel has blocked goods arriving by sea and Egypt has shut down smuggling of goods by land by flooding tunnels.

Blockading Gaza is a real economic hardship for the residents of Gaza. A large part of the economy of Gaza was based on smuggling. Further hardship in Gaza is a result of the 2014 war against Israel started by Hamas. For the typical resident of Gaza, Hamas has been a disaster. They have nothing to show for the war and life is miserable. According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza was 43% at the end of 2014, the highest in the world. Gaza seems ready to explode.

What should be done to alleviate the situation? Very little, as long as Hamas stays in power. As Hamas is again boasting of new tunnel construction meant to infiltrate Israel, it would be foolish for Israel to end a blockade that makes construction material less accessible. It would be insane for Egypt to make it easier for the Islamic terrorists of Gaza to cooperate with the Isis affiliates of Sinai Province. Israel and Egypt have compelling reasons to maintain the blockade. Only with regime change in Gaza will these reasons disappear.

This provides an opening for Turkey. Hurriyet of February 29 reports, ‘A nine-hour-long Turkish cabinet meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Feb. 22 focused on foreign policy, with the future of Ankara’s bilateral relations Israel and Egypt as well as its position regarding the Syrian conflict reviewed in a bid to update its roadmap on these thorny issues.

In early February, while categorically ruling out meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until death penalty sentences for ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders were lifted, Erdoğan had already given a green light for ministerial-level talks between the two estranged countries.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu briefed the meeting over the current phase of normalization efforts with Israel. The undersecretary-level efforts between Turkey and Israel were close to being completed, Çavuşoğlu said. Accordingly, Turkey and Israel may make a joint statement “in the coming days,” he added.

Turkey has repeatedly insisted on three conditions for normalization: The lifting of the Gaza blockade, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and an apology for the incident. Israel has already apologized and negotiations appear to have made progress on compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid. This leaves Israel’s blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as the main hurdle. Last week, Hamas said it was hopeful an emerging deal to restore ties between Israel and Turkey would result in the construction of a port for the impoverished Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes a seaport might be built if Israel does lift its restrictions.

A seaport controlled by Hamas seems to be wishful thinking on the part of the Turks and Hamas. In a Times of Israel article of February 28, Avi Issacharoff reports that there have been no talks on the establishment of a Gaza seaport. The article notes, ”Egypt’s demands are unequivocal: Rafah will be open only once control of the border crossings is handed over to the Palestinian Authority. The Egyptians apply the same principle to the idea of a seaport, which they will only countenance if the PA, not Hamas, governs the passage of goods into the Strip. Amid reports regarding the option of putting Gaza’s port on an artificial island or in Cyprus, Egypt held talks on the matter with the PA, which is also opposed to such a move. In the wake of those talks, Cairo signaled to Jerusalem its opposition to establishing a seaport anywhere while Hamas is still in control of the Strip.’

A March 1 article in the Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman puts Recep ‘Vladimir’ Erdogan’s motivation for this diplomatic push in a less altruistic light. ‘Erdogan’s foreign and defense policies have failed miserably. He saw himself as the renewer of the days of the Ottoman Empire and as a modern-day, 21st century Sultan. He aimed to turn Turkey into a regional power, and perhaps into the strongest force in the Middle East, but this did not happen.

Instead, Turkey finds itself in a conflict with Russia and Iran over Syria, where Erdogan hoped to see President Bashar Assad ousted. Erdogan supported the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and now he finds himself at odds with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Because of Turkey’s uncompromising fight against its Kurdish population, as well as in Syria and Iraq, Ankara is also losing its influence with NATO and with the US. Turkey is now more isolated than ever and is therefore interested in renewing ties with Israel, in the hope that the Jewish state can help Ankara improve its standing in Washington. Turkey also needs natural gas from Israel in order to diversify its sources of energy and to reduce its dependency on Russian gas.’

Egypt is the ally of choice. This does not mean that all is roses between Israel and Egypt. There is a reservoir of hatred toward Israel as signified by the attack on an Egyptian MP who hosted the Israeli ambassador. With non-inciteful textbooks, however, this hatred should disappear over time.

We defer a detailed analysis of the Iranian election results. The conservatives won 103 seats in the Parliament, reformists and moderates 95, and independents 14. Five seats went to minorities and four to candidates with no affiliation. There are 69 seats to be determined in April runoff elections. In short, the ‘moderates’ made tremendous gains, the people have spoken clearly in favor of change. However, the real power remains in the hands of the supreme leader Khamenei, a hard line judiciary and the Revolutionary Guard.

Watching the Republican presidential debate last week, I was ashamed for the dignity of the office of President of the United States. The debate reminded me of the food fight in the movie ‘Animal House’. In a democracy, we get the leaders that we deserve. Let’s hope that the American public votes a resounding ‘no’ to the animals. The results of the March 1 primaries are not encouraging.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.