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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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Cause for concern

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Last week, on the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut, when discussing Israel’s key security challenges, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz mentioned the political instability in Egypt and Syria as being as currently worrisome for the Jewish state as the uncertainty surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

Gantz’s concerns regarding Egypt were brought into sharp, infuriating focus three days earlier by the decision of Egypt’s national gas company, EGAS, to unilaterally cancel its agreement to deliver natural gas to Israel. 

The unjustified, vindictive behaviour by the gas company was shameful. But worse than that, it was illegal, a clear violation of the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, from which the gas delivery agreement stemmed. The peace treaty had obligated Egypt to supply Israel with oil. But this obligation was subsequently changed to the supply of natural gas.

The government of Israel rushed to recharacterize the Egyptian move as a business, rather than political, decision.

“We don’t see this cutoff of the gas as something that is born out of political developments. It’s actually a business dispute between the Israeli company and the Egyptian company,” the prime minister’s office said the day following EGAS’ announcement. Indeed, EGAS used similar “business” terminology to describe the cancellation.

But no one was fooled.

The abrogation of the agreement was about politics and nothing else.

Israel had long ago stopped relying on its Egyptian supplier. Gas had long ago stopped flowing to Israel from Egypt. Since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the pipeline in the Sinai that supplied the gas to Israel has been attacked 14 times. No arrests have ever been made in any of the attacks. In deigning to seek compensation from EGAS for the massive unbudgeted expense of finding alternate gas supplies, the Israel Electric Company upset its erstwhile Egyptian supplier.

Moreover, the frequency of the sabotage of the pipeline and the clear immunity from punishment of the saboteurs point to the lawlessness and anarchy that have taken root in the Sinai. One senses  too, alas, that anarchy and lawlessness are encroaching into the very heart of Egypt itself.

The early idealists of Tahrir Square have been cast aside. Their idealism has been betrayed. Their hopes for a liberal democratic society have been trampled to dust under the marching triumphalism of the opportunistic Islamists. The unilateral cancellation of the gas delivery contract is of a piece in Egypt with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the frenzied, mob attack some months ago on Israel’s embassy.

Egyptian presidential elections are imminent. The political situation is fluid. And the tide of concern rises in Israel.

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