› Egypt’s president considering amending Camp David Accords | War in Context
Al-Masry Al-Youm reports: President Mohamed Morsy is studying whether to amend the Camp David Accords to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control over every inch of Sinai, said Mohamed Gadallah, legal adviser to the president.
Calls for amending the peace treaty with Israel, which also governs the security presence in the Sinai Peninsula, have been on the rise since last week’s attack on a military checkpoint at the border left 16 Egyptian security officers dead.
Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi called for the amendments Saturday. The Revolutionary Youth Union has filed a lawsuit before an administrative court demanding that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel be amended.
Morsy has vowed several times since he took office to preserve international treaties that Egypt has signed.
Gadallah didn’t give more details on the issue while speaking to Al-Masry Al-Youm Monday. He added that Morsy would soon order the release of another batch of military detainees.
› Another Sinai Checkpoint Attack as Egypt Prepares Crackdown
A group of unnamed militants have attacked another checkpoint in the Sinai town of El-Arish today, causing no casualties but adding to skittishness about the Egypt-Israel-Gaza border as the Egyptian military continues to mass forces in the region.
It was the second attack on a checkpoint in less than a week, after a weekend strike targeted a border police station, sacking it and killing 16 police. Egypt’s military responded by shelling a Sinai village, killing 20 suspects.
Growing insecurity around the border has led Israel to finally approve of an increase in Egyptian troops in the peninsula, and President Muhamed Mursi toured the region today, promising a broad crackdown on terrorists in the Sinai.
Even the local Bedouin tribes are reportedly okay with the offensive, despite the prospect of it bringing fighting into their villages. A number of tribal leaders have met with the Interior Ministry and approved of plans to move against militants as well as to destroy Gaza smuggling tunnels.
› Brother Knows Best - By Steven A. Cook | Foreign Policy
For months now, it has seemed that this play [between the military and the Brotherhood] had no end. The Brothers have long maintained a vision of society that resonates with many Egyptians but very little in the way of means to transform these ideas into reality. The military is an exact mirror image of the Brothers. The officers have no coherent and appealing worldview, but they have had the ability to prevent those who do from accumulating power and altering the political system. The result has been a stalemate, marked by a series of tactical political deals that only last until circumstances force the Brothers and the officers to seek accommodation.
But the Rafah killings may well have tipped the scales. As weak as Morsy’s position seemed to be, two distinct advantages have enabled him to spin the attack to his political advantage: the utter the incompetence of Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi, the head of the General Intelligence Service, and the very fact that Morsy is a popularly elected president.
On the first count, Muwafi admitted that his organization intercepted details of the attack before it happened, but that he and his team never “imagined that a Muslim would kill a Muslim brother at iftar in Ramadan.” He then passed the buck, lamely offering that he had given the information to the proper authorities, presumably the Ministry of Interior. Muwafi may have been using the reference to Muslims’ killing of fellow Muslims while breaking fast to cast suspicion on the Israelis — no matter that this theory is demonstrably untrue — or because it reflected the complacency of the Mubarak era of which he is a product. Either way, it played to Morsy’s advantage.
Under Mubarak, Muwafi would likely have gotten away with his ineptitude. No doubt, there were intelligence failures during the Mubarak era, but the former president and his minions could always count on force and state propaganda to cover their tracks. (It is important to remember that however unseemly it was for the Muslim Brotherhood to blame Israel for the Rafah attacks, it is a tactic that Hosni Mubarak perfected during his three decades in power.A little more than a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, for example, Mubarak told an Israeli TV audience, “You are responsible [for terrorism].”) But old tricks don’t always work in the new Egypt. Muwafi’s admission that the GIS knew an attack was on the way provided Morsy with an opportunity to clean house — a stunning move made possible only by the fact that he can claim a popular mandate. Out went Muwafi, North Sinai governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, and Hamdi Badeen, the powerful commander of the Military Police.
The SCAF, the GIS, and Ministry of Interior may yet respond, but they are in a difficult political position. How do they justify opposing the president for removing the people ostensibly responsible for failing to prevent the deaths of Egyptian troops? In the new, more open Egypt, people are demanding accountability and Morsy is giving it to them, which may be why Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the SCAF, has so far yielded to Morsy. Yet Tantawi’s position is made all the more precarious because if he does not respond in some way, he is signaling that there is no price to be paid for defying Egypt’s defense and national security establishment, opening the way to further efforts to undermine the deep state.
Egypt needs a comprehensive Sinai policy alongside a clear policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that makes clear its commitment to justice for Palestinians, Palestinian reconciliation, and refusal to be dragged into a confrontation with Israel or Hamas. Ending the blockade of Gaza, pushing for Palestinian reconciliation, restoring order in Sinai and addressing its inhabitants’ grievances: this is what has to be done to avoid a repeat of this. One fears that Egypt, being so politically divided, is hardly in a position to take up this challenge.
On the attacks in Sinai
Instead, the military has started a bombing campaign in Sinai.
› On the attacks in Sinai | The Arabist
Just around sunset on Sunday, as soldiers prepared to sit foriftar, three 4x4 vehicles (Toyota Land Cruisers, commonly used in the area) raided two checkpoints manned by Border Guards and Central Security Forces at Massoura, just south of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Sixteen officers and conscripts were killed in the ensuing firefight and five more wounded, while an unconfirmed eight assailants were killed. The firefight took place using automatic weapons, mortars and RPGs. Two lightly armored personnel carriers were stolen by the attackers, which then headed to the Karm Abu Salem crossing (a tripartite crossing between Egypt, Israel and Gaza through which most humanitarian goods go through under Israeli supervision). According to the Israelis, the first vehicle was made to explode as a diversion while the second vehicle headed into Israel. It was destroyed by an Israeli Apache helicopter after opening fire on Israeli border patrols. Egyptian troops also followed the attackers to the border and engaged with them there, reportedly arresting some of them.
North Sinai has been placed in a state of emergency, with the military reinforcing its positions at the border. The Rafah crossing has been closed indefinitely, with angry residents of Egyptian Rafah also taking part in sealing the border. Attack helicopters have been dispatched to the border area (I’m not sure about this, but this may be the first time Egypt takes full advantage of a 2011 agreement with the Israelis to increase deployment along the border — previously, the Egyptian military did not use the full options they had under the agreement.)
The checkpoints along the Suez Canal have been reinforced and are subject to extra controls, as are those inside the two Sinai governorates. There are ongoing searches in both Israel and Egypt for accomplices, Egyptian Rafah is encircled by the army, and reports that Israel has also shelled Gaza soon after the attack.
SCAF and President Morsi, meeting last night after the attack, have both vowed to find the culprits and avenge the fallen, with Morsi adding that there is “no room in Egypt for this type of aggression and criminality.” The Armed Forces say they will pursue the attackers “inside Egypt and abroad.” Morsi also visited Rafah on Monday night.
Security sources have leaked to the press that the perpetrators came from Sinai-based groups as well as well as Gaza-based groups.
Political parties and revolutionary movements from across the political spectrum have denounced the attacks and expressed their solidarity with the army.
Israel is said to have warned of attacks in the last few days, while jihadist videos of military exercises in Sinai had circulated online. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak addressed the Knesset today, the NYT reports:
“I think that the risk of a very large terrorist attack was averted,” Mr. Barak told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday morning, “and this was a very important operational success in the battle that is raging there and maybe a proper wake-up call for the Egyptians to take matters into their own hands on their side in a stronger manner.”
Hamas has strongly condemned the attack as a “heinous crime” while some Hamas figures suggested it was carried out by Israel to sow discord between Egypt and Palestinians. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s own website has expressed suspicion that Mossad is behind the attack, according to Reuters. Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has blamed Iran, even though his own government said al-Qaeda was responsible (and since Oren retracted his comments.)
The Egyptian military has started a bombing campaign in Sinai. For more:
Egypt Airstrikes Reported in Sinai - NYT
'Operation Eagle' will not stop until Sinai is terror-free: Egypt's military - Ahram
Egypt hits militants in Sinai, to Israeli approval - Reuters
› Israel’s envoy to U.S. blames Iran for Sinai attack, but evidence is lacking | War in Context
Of course he did. And of course there is no evidence, but since when do knee-jerk reactionary propagandists like Michael Oren need evidence?
“Iranian backed terrorists again struck at our Southern border today killing 15 Egyptian guards and attempting to massacre Israeli civilians,” Oren wrote in a Twitter post. On his Facebook page he wrote that “terrorists also shelled Israeli farms and towns along the border… the thwarted attack underscores the length to which the extremist regime in Iran will attempt to kill innocent Israelis.”
It is unclear what prompted Oren to release these statements, as it is clear he was in no possession of evidence linking Iran to the attack. …
Like Netanyahu, Oren’s statements on Twitter and Facebook are part of an Israeli propaganda campaign aimed at smearing Iran’s image. Yet like everything in life – it is all about dosage. Sometimes the urge to galvanize the world against the Iranians can lead to nothing more than baseless exaggerations.
More on the Sinai violence here.
› Egypt prepares Sinai sweep after deadly attack | Egypt Independent
Egypt deployed helicopter gunships to the Sinai Peninsula on Monday to hunt for the militants who killed 16 soldiers at a checkpoint along the border with Israel, according to security and military officials. Israel meanwhile stepped up pressure on Egypt to clamp down on the lawless border zone.
The officials said two attack helicopters had been sent and more were expected to arrive in the border town of Arish as Egyptian security forces prepared to sweep the region, which has experienced a surge of violence since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s regime last year.
Suspected Islamists attacked the checkpoint on Sunday, killing the soldiers before stealing two of their vehicles and bursting through a security fence into Israel. Israeli officials say the attack was quickly spotted, hit with an airstrike, and at least eight militants were killed.
Large numbers of troops from the 2nd Field Army also arrived in Sinai, sealing off the peninsula after the bloody attack, witnesses told the German news agency DPA. They said troops crossed the Suez Canal on their way to Rafah and Arish, and added that police and army forces were deployed at all major entrances and exits in Sinai.
Troops were also stationed at underground tunnels areas on the Egyptian side of Rafah. Security sources told DPA that contacts are being made with the Hamas government in Gaza to close the underground tunnels entirely and to deny entry to any person from the Palestinian side. Hamas had also been informed of Egypt’s decision to close the Rafah land crossing with Gaza indefinitely.
And also: Update: SCAF says 35 assailants involved in border killings
Thirty-five assailants were involved in the attack late Sunday near the Israeli border that left 16 Egyptian security officers dead, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said Monday in a statement read by state TV. The council added that it considers the attackers “enemies” of Egypt.
The military earlier vowed to seek quick revenge for the deaths.
› Al-Amin: What’s the U.S. up to in Egypt? | The Arabist
Esam Al-Amin in Counterpunch:
In this high stakes of international power play the U.S. strategy in the region is to prefer a managed transition to civilian rule and democratic governance as long as the American major strategic objectives are not challenged. In short, the strategy is to give the Islamic rising powers a chance to govern as long as they agree to: keep the Americans in, the Chinese and Russians out, the Iranians down, and the Israelis safe.
Time will only tell if the Islamic group would fulfill such expectations or chart a more independent course in line with the objectives of the revolution that brought them to power.
Al-Amin is critical of US foreign policy in the region (who isn’t!?) but his article is fair appraisal of priorities for Washington in post-uprising Egypt. It’s actually a pretty decent mix as long as it includes that transition to democratic governance (and I think the US is not on good terms with SCAF, or more specifically Tantawi, anyway). The question is what happens to the good stuff if Washington doesn’t get its way on the others — and I think that something there has got to give.
The first test, as Al-Amin points out, is likely to be the blockade on Gaza and Egypt-Israel relations. The Israelis, in any case, are not wasting time making their preparations and drafting allies in the US:
That last piece on CNN.com is an op-ed by Mark Udall, a US Senator for Colorado (D). He writes:
It is critical that we engage the Israelis and Egyptians in joint discussions on security in the Sinai and on preserving the Multinational Force and Observers’ mission. The Egyptian military should be urged to reinforce checkpoints on the borders between mainland Egypt and the Sinai in order to stop the flow of arms and crack down on human trafficking. Egypt’s new government must respect the country’s commitments to combat human trafficking under international conventions as well as domestic law.
Where the US lags behind is accepting that the main cause of instability in Sinai is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the impact the Gaza blockade has had in criminalizing the Sinai economy through the tunnels. What Egypt needs in Sinai is not just a greater commitment of the state to fight crime, but an end to the blockade, which means an end to the Quartet conditions.
› The situation in Sinai and Egypt-Israel relations | Issandr El Amrani
Camp David is not coming to end anytime soon, and the alarmism […] is unjustified. But the Egyptian-Israeli crisis has shown that Israel’s behavior will have to take into account Egyptian public opinion (and the potential pressure it can bring on government) to a much greater extent than it ever had to under Hosni Mubarak. It is likely, given the dynamics of Israeli politics (where Kadima is now attacking Likud for being soft) that ultimately the Israelis will choose to push the Egyptians on this. If and when they do so, then Camp David and bilateral relations will be really threatened. This development is to be welcomed, because the failure of Oslo and wider Arab-Israeli peace efforts can largely be laid on the feet of Israel’s ability to get away, literally, with murder. Now, there is finally a price to pay that will be big enough.
For the military council now in charge, and future Egyptian governments, there has also been a lesson: you can no longer simply ignore the street on Israel, and sometimes you have to get ahead of it. Reports that Field Marshall Tantawi blocked the recall of the Egyptian Ambassador in Israel, ordered by Prime Minister Sharaf, may be true. Like any government, the current one has to manage public anger and think of consequences protestors do not have in mind. But it has also offered it an opportunity to push for certain foreign policy goals and assert itself in its near-abroad. I share the analysis of the LRB’s Adam Shatz (worth reading in full) when he writes:
If all this had happened a year ago, Mubarak would have done his best to suppress the news of the killing of Egyptian security personnel, and Shahat would almost surely have wound up in jail. Instead, Mubarak is in prison, facing trial, and the SCAF has to respond to the demands of Shahat and his admirers. Threatening to withdraw Egypt’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, the SCAF insisted on an official apology from Israel; it received two, the second from Shimon Peres. An apology is not a revolution in Egyptian-Israeli relations, but it is a sign of a new respect, and an indication that the balance of power in this special relationship is shifting, as it has in Israel’s relations with Erdogan’s Turkey. The SCAF has shown – or, perhaps, discovered – that it has growing leverage in its relations with Israel, and that peace does not necessarily mean fealty. Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi and his colleagues are not looking for confrontation – quite the contrary – but they clearly expect to be treated with dignity, not as clients but as partners. And they understand that Egyptians will accept nothing less.