Israel’s Gaza counterattack has revealed the extent of the problem the region, and Israel specifically, faces with a post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. The Associated Press reports:
[President Mohamed Morsi’s] Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party referred to Israel as a “Zionist occupier” and a “racist state” . . . “In the framework of elections that Israel is witnessing is a recent military escalation against occupied Gaza and the occupied Golan Heights,” the statement said. Israel has set parliamentary elections for Jan. 22. The Brotherhood’s party called on Arab and Muslim governments “to stop the Zionist war that is operating under electoral calculations for personal gain far from humanitarian calculations for peace, security and stability.”
The new Egyptian president, the AP adds, has “not met Israeli officials since his election in June. He has also not mentioned Israel by name in official statements, in line with long-standing Brotherhood policy.” Morsi is smart enough to not explicitly renounce the treaty with Israel, but his rhetoric is plainly aimed to incite Hamas and other Islamists.
A U.S. Middle East observer also notes that a minister in the Morsi government today is calling for attacks within Israel (“hit strongly the oppressive Zionists in its inside, and make them forget their devilish nature”).
It was, therefore, bizarre, even for the New York Times editorial page to proclaim: “Israel could have asked Egypt, whose new Islamist-led government has close ties to Hamas, to mediate a more permanent cease-fire. On Monday, Hamas hinted that it was open to that. Or Israel could have responded as it usually has in recent years, avoiding high-profile assassinations while attacking rocket-launching squads, empty training sites and weapons manufacturing plants.” What Egyptian government do the sages at the Times think exists currently?
An irate Middle East analyst e-mailed me, “Morsi can’t even admit that they replied to a letter from [Israeli President Shimon] Peres and the New York Times expects Morsi to lobby Hamas to moderate their response to the killing of their senior architect? Why didn’t Morsi get them to stop the rocket attacks over the past few days? Does the New York Times actually believe that no one in Israel or U.S. asked Morsi to do anything before they went ahead and took out [Hamas military leader Ahmed] Jabari?” He explains, “Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood liaison to Hamas for around 10 years, for crying out load — no one in the Muslim Brotherhood has more clout with Hamas than him. He can operationally stop Hamas at any time — he doesn’t do this for political reasons.”
What is the United States doing to pressure Morsi into behaving more constructively? The White House press secretary said in a read-out of the president’s call with Morsi yesterday that President Obama “condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense. The two leaders agreed on the importance of working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible and agreed to stay in close touch in the days ahead.” Well, when exactly does that constructive behavior begin? And if Morsi persists in fanning the flames, is the president prepared to do more than chat on the phone to get the attention of the Muslim Brotherhood government?
Egypt is technically an ally of the United States. But its behavior is not that of a regime that wants a friendly relationship with this nation — and the economic, diplomatic and military benefits that go along with that. Unless Morsi perceives that some of those benefits could be at risk, he has little reason to curb his ways.
UPDATE (12:12 p.m.): News outlets are reporting that a missile has hit suburban Tel Aviv. It seems Hamas was receptive to the message of Morsi’s party.
This is a serious escalation by Hamas, and Israel will no doubt respond accordingly.