Egypt’s Misdirected Wrath

We wrote here about the terrorist attack in which 15 to 20 armed Gazans made their way into Sinai and attacked Israel across the Egyptian border, without interference from Egyptian forces which were either oblivious or compliant. The attack was coordinated with other assaults and followed up with a series of rocket barrages on southern Israel, which continue. Altogether, eight Israelis were killed by the terrorists.

IDF troops killed several of the terrorists; others retreated across the Egyptian border. Israeli troops briefly crossed the border in pursuit of those terrorists and reportedly killed one or two more there. At some point in these events, Egyptian soldiers either participated in the fighting or were caught up in it accidentally, and five were killed. At this point, it is not clear how or by whose hand the Egyptian soldiers died. Israel and Egypt have agreed to conduct a joint investigation to determine the facts, and Israel has expressed “regret” for the deaths of the Egyptian soldiers.

On any rational accounting, the cause of their death was the violation of Egyptian sovereignty by the Palestinian terrorists who infiltrated that country and then launched a terrorist attack from Egyptian territory. Predictably, however, that is not how many Egyptians view the affair. Anti-Israel demonstrations have broken out, and Egypt’s government has proclaimed that Israel’s expression of regret is “insufficient.”

Anti-Israel demonstrators assembled outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo, chanted anti-Israel slogans and burned Israeli flags in effigy. This man’s sign sums up the attitude of, one suspects, a great many Egyptians:

One demonstrator went so far as to climb the 15-story embassy building, tear down Israel’s flag and replace it with an Egyptian flag, which flies from the embassy in this photo:

By rights, it is Israelis who should be angry with Egypt. At a minimum, Egypt failed to control its own border and allowed a terrorist attack to be mounted from its territory. But it is no surprise, as the Arab Spring gives way to summer, that it is Israel that finds itself on the defensive. Peace with Egypt–and beyond peace, a cooperative relationship–has been a cornerstone of Israel’s security strategy since 1979, and while Israel ultimately must adjust to the new reality in Egypt, beginning by strengthening its southern border defenses, it is understandable that Israel will bend over backward to avoid conflict during the current period of transition and uncertainty in Egypt.

Peace between Egypt and Israel has been a cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East since 1979, too. It would be nice if the Obama administration could use whatever influence it has in Egypt to help defuse the situation and put the focus where it belongs, on Palestinian terrorism. It will be interesting to see what role the administration plays, if any, as events unfold.

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