A Hollow Peace?

Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

The Egyptian-Israel-Gaza border saw some action yesterday. Terrorists, apparently Bedouin connected to the Global Jihad—though the Muslim Brotherhood has accused the Mossad— crossed the border into Israel swaddled in explosives. The attackers killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers, stole an armored vehicle and drove across the border, managing to drive only one and a quarter miles into Israel before Israel blew the vehicle to pieces. Israel has returned the vehicle and the bodies to Egypt, allowing them to handle all of the cleanup of the affair.

Something like this would have been unimaginable before Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979. Israel killed 16 people carrying half a ton of explosives coming from Egypt—pre-’79, escalation, if not all-out war, would have been more likely than handing the thing over to the state they came from. This debunks the claims that the Israeli-Egyptian peace is hollow because it was made with an Egyptian autocrat rather than with the Egyptian people.

In 2011, because of the Arab-Spring-prompted lawlessness in Sinai, Israel allowed Egypt to send two battalions into the mostly demilitarized peninsula for the first time since the treaty was signed in 1979. Though the area is rife with Al-Qaeda affiliated groups like the Global Jihad, Israel has never broken its treaty and entered Sinai to deal with these terrorists. Instead, Egyptian and Israeli military forces cooperate, as they did yesterday when Israel warned Egypt the attack was coming. In response to the attack, Egypt surrounded Rafah, bombed tunnels to Gaza, and closed the border crossing in an attempt to root out the rest of the perpetrators. Israel, for its part, has not intervened in Egypt’s cleanup, seemingly content to stand down.

But Israel’s willingness to step back and let Egypt take charge would have been unimaginable had there been an attack on the border with Gaza or Lebanon. Israel routinely bombs Gaza in response to rocket attacks, even when they are fired by the Islamic Jihad and not the ruling Hamas. When Hezbollah kidnapped two IDF soldiers in 2006, Israel practically flattened the southern half of Lebanon.

Israel’s response to the Sunday attack is not just mild—it can only be a result of the peace treaty and Israel’s desire to preserve it. Morsi, for his part, has strained relations with Hamas rather than with Israel in response to this attack. Technically, he is no longer a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, and his actions do not reflect their absurd accusation that the Mossad was behind this attack.

True, Egyptians are not fond of Israelis. Egyptians have vandalized and rioted in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, and Egyptian TV has recently exposed the depth of anti-Israel sentiment in the country. This can hardly be expected to create feelings of love in Israeli hearts. But you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends. And ultimately, it is leaders who make policy, not protesters on the street. Both Israel and Egypt want this peace to hold. So it’s not a fake peace. Lets not make it out to be one.