It doesn’t make any sense that Egypt and Israel would go to war. It’s in no one’s best interest.
Walter Russell Mead explained yesterday that diplomacy should be able to solve the disputes between the two nations.
Unfortunately, that does not by any means guarantee that there will be no military conflict between Egypt and Israel.
Yesterday, I reported on the Egyptian presidential campaign. We saw supporters of a leading candidate are calling for war with Israel.
Conflict might be avoidable, but it requires serious diplomacy and the good will of both parties.
The trigger for conflict was Egypt’s cancelling an agreement to provide natural gas to Israel. It is not in Egypt’s interest to stop selling gas to its biggest customer, but that is what it did. Egypt used to provide some 40% of Israel’s energy needs.
Even if Egypt promises to respect the agreement, it has been largely unable to stop terrorist sabotage of the pipeline that delivers the gas.
I think it far to say that Egypt’s decision to cut off 40% of Israel’s energy can be seen as an act of war.
In addition, a clear majority of Egyptians wants to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel.
Walter Russell Mead explains the situation:
The rhetoric on both sides is escalating. Israel’s Finance Ministry called Egypt’s decision ”a dangerous precedent that casts clouds over the peace agreements and the atmosphere of peace between Egypt and Israel.” Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi warned that Egypt’s border was “perpetually in danger.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Egypt was a “greater threat than Iran.” Egyptian officials have said they were well within their rights to cancel the deal—a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman called the decision “excellent.” In response, Israel appears to have mobilized six reserve battalions to defend the border with Egypt, as well as Syria.
For an Egyptian government in turmoil and in need of cash, picking a fight with Israel over natural gas serves no one. Israel on its part would also be wise to avoid antagonizing the country that supplies so much of its electricity. Several experienced Middle East watchers have suggested that the United States, which has close relations with both the Egyptian and Israeli governments, should step in to mediate and also bolster security forces in Sinai, which is largely lawless desert full of smugglers and fighting tribes. As Steve Cook writes, ”If the United States does not wake up to the danger that the Sinai poses and the Israelis are forced to respond to a terrorist attack from the Sinai, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is over.”
It’s a diplomatic challenge for the Obama/Clinton foreign policy team. We will see how it all works out.
Keep in mind that just because something is highly improbable that does not mean that it will not happen. It just means that the event is a black swan.
A few years ago Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book about black swans, events that are so improbable that no one prepares for them.
Taleb suggests that we are always preparing for what happened yesterday. Preparing for the improbable makes us look a little crazy; we prefer to present ourselves as rational and sensible. Thus, we tend to be blindsided by what we don't expect to happen.
I am not predicting that there will be war between Egypt and Israel. I am pointing out, as Mead does and as Caroline Glick did, that the situation over there is heating up and that we do not really know what will happen.
While everyone’s eyes are fixed on Iran and even Syria, it may very well be that the real danger lies in Egypt.
True enough, Egypt cannot afford a war. It can barely feed its people. And yet, as Dennis commented after the last post, the PLO and Hamas cannot afford war, and yet they are still fighting one.
To us, their interest lies in peace and prosperity. To them, it lies in a holy war to restore the pride that they lost when Israelis succeeded where they failed.
At the least, it’s worth the time and trouble to think beyond the conventional wisdom.