Egypt has set up anti-aircraft missiles in the Sinai Desert, without notifying Israel and in violation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, according to Israeli reports, even as Egypt’s new leader has seized control of Egypt’s vast bureaucracy.
Israeli officials are not speaking publicly about the missile transfer that is only the latest and perhaps the most serious of actions by Egypt’s new Islamic regime that may signal the imminent failure of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty:
- Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, swiftly and unexpectedly replaced the pro-US chiefs of staff of Egypt’s armed forces, and he also installed pro-Brotherhood journalists as editors of Egypt’s top newspapers;
- Morsi, who asserts an extreme form of Sunni Islam, is set to go to Iran this month to parley with Iran’s leaders who express a militant version of Shiite Islam, both of whom have doctrines calling for Israel’s destruction.
“We are talking about missiles: anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles that the Egyptian Army has introduced into Sinai, according to reports, in violation of the peace treaty between the two states,” declared Eran Singer, Arab Affairs commentator of The Voice of Israel Radio.
“This is something that is happening these recent days,” added Singer, who did not mention his sources, but it is likely the information came from the Israeli army (IDF).
Putting missiles along Israel’s border, without Israel’s permission, was one of the central factors leading up to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Egypt used the cover of anti-aircraft missiles to attack on Yom Kippur.
But the commentator says that the missile move is only the most visible part of sweeping changes in Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the pro-US autocrat who led Egypt for 30 years.
“Morsi is now the head of the executive branch, and he appoints and dissolves governments in Egypt, [but] he is also the legislative branch in the absence of a parliament. and [can] … enact any law he wants.,” said Dr. Guy Bechor, one of Israel’s top Arab affairs experts.
“The new Egyptian leader is also in charge of foreign policy, domestic policy, security, economy and more,” added Bechor, who specializes in legal and journalistic analysis of Arab society at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya.
“He finalizes international agreements, interprets the constitution, and has the power to appoint a taskforce that will draft a new constitution. And so, after a year and a half of semi-anarchy, Egypt is once again a country ruled by one person – a dictatorship.”
Bechor said “the current dictatorship is even harsher than Mubarak’s, whose decisions were reached together with parliament, political parties and the courts. Here we are talking about one man who controls everything.”
Avi Yissacharoff, Arab affairs reporter for Haaretz newspaper, agreed, noting that Morsi had effectively become the king of Egypt.
The movement of Egyptian missiles comes at a time of great regional unrest, and it raises the stakes and the tension on Israel’s southern border even as intense pressure is growing on Israel in the north and the East:
- In the east, Jordan faces growing instability as Bedouin tribes, formerly strong supporters of the monarchy, are protesting economic conditions, and as more than 150,000 refugees have streamed into the country from war-torn Syria;
- In the north, Lebanese-based Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his pro-Iranian militia would launch its rockets and mortars at Israel inflicting “tens of thousands of deaths” if Israel tried to strike at Iran;
- Also in the north, Syrian opponents of the Assad regime—largely drawn from Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood—may get control of some of Syria’s stores of advanced weapons: rockets, missiles and bio-chemical warfare stores, and they are trying to get American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
The dramatic regional developments are forcing Israeli strategic planners to change their assumptions and force allocations, according to sources in the Israeli security community. For example, the head of Israel’s Golani Brigade said his forces were now geared more to meeting a jihadi threat from Syria than the traditional threat posed by the regime of Bashar Assad.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar Ilan University.