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Israel: The Borders Are Burning
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July 11, 2013: Most of Israel’s neighbors are undergoing violent upheavals. Lebanon has increasing violence between Sunni and Shia supporters of their respective factions in neighboring Syria. There, the civil war between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority dictatorship has killed over 100,000 people in two years and grinds on. In Egypt the uprising that overthrew the decades old Mubarak two years ago repeated itself when the disappointing and very unpopular Morsi government, that replaced Mubarak, was shut down by the army. The 2011 uprising was against corruption and debilitating misrule. Egyptians have noticed that while many other nations have prospered in the last half century, Egypt has stagnated. This sense of loss was behind all the Arab Spring uprisings, but most have subsequently suffered from new governments dominated by Islamic conservatives. This was because the dictatorships were able to stifle rival political parties to maintain their rule but could not shut down what went on in the mosques or religious schools. Here opposition politicians who were Islamic conservatives (or radicals) could survive and reach large numbers of dissatisfied people with the message that Islamic law (Sharia) and politicians who were devout Moslems were the solution. History, both recent and ancient, has shown this to be a false hope but for most Moslems it was the most convenient alternative once the dictatorship was overthrown. In Egypt there had been active Islamic political groups for most of the last century. The main one was the Moslem Brotherhood, which was suppressed by the succession of army dominated governments (that pretended to be democratic but rigged the elections) that began in the 1950s. The Brotherhood split over this, with most of them returning to Mosque based politics and doing what they could to improve the lives of Egyptians. A minority of Brotherhood members went radical and were crushed in the 1990s, after a major outbreak of terrorism. Some of the leaders fled Egypt, and one of them now is the head of al Qaeda. Several of these Moslem Brotherhood leaders (and many followers) helped organize al Qaeda.

The 1990s experience left many Egyptians hostile to Islamic radicalism and suspicious of the Moslem Brotherhood in general. This all played out after the Mubarak government fell in early 2011, and the army helped organize the first honest elections seen in Egypt for decades. The Moslem Brotherhood was the only political force that was organized, experienced, and allowed to participate (all the pro-Mubarak parties were banned). The Egyptian middle class (small businessmen and those with an education, even if poor) could not organize in time and the generals knew it. For a year after the uprising the army, and its many corrupt officers, ran a caretaker government, and because the unrest had caused higher unemployment (because tourists have stopped coming and foreign and local investment has slowed down a lot because of the uncertainty) any new government would have to take quick action to revive economic activity. Fearing that the Islamic conservatives, who won most of the seats in the new parliamentary elections, would prosecute corrupt army officers and dismantle the economic empire the army has built over the last few decades, the military actively attacked demonstrators, journalists, and organizations that advised on how to make a democracy work. The urban democrats were uneasy about the Islamic conservative political parties and the possibility of a religious dictatorship. But Islamic conservatives, especially the Moslem Brotherhood, insisted that this would not happen. The foreign pro-democracy activists were helping Egyptians more effectively demonstrate against the army, and the army struck back. But Egypt depended a lot on foreign aid, much of it going directly to the army. These aid donors did not like seeing their citizens (foreign aid workers) locked up and pressured the Egyptian generals to let them go. The army did not have to worry because the Moslem Brotherhood dominated government was beholden to other, often more radical, Islamic groups and imposed rules that hurt tourism and hinted at an attempt to establish a religious dictatorship. The military leaders knew that a religious dictatorship had not been good for their contemporaries in Iran and refused to do anything about the growing anti-government demonstrations and collapsing economy.

Then the army demanded that the Moslem Brotherhood dominated government resign and allow a new one, not dominated by the Islamic conservatives and radicals, to be formed. President Morsi refused and was arrested. This was greeted with cheers by the millions of demonstrators still in the streets. Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood are held responsible for the economic depression since the Arab Spring began two years ago and for generally ignoring the needs of the people. In practice, Morsi attempts to improve the economy were most often stymied by the wealthy (and largely pro-Mubarak) families that do not favor a real democracy but rather an oligarchy (government controlled by the wealthiest families). It was these families and the army leadership that have the most to fear from a truly democratic government (that would and could punish the corrupt officials, businessmen, and generals who profited the most from supporting Mubarak). The unspoken message to any post-Morsi government is that if you don’t mess with the families or the generals, perhaps we can get the economy going again. But the economy will never get into high gear as long as so much of it is controlled by corrupt factions that care more for their own power and wealth than for the overall prosperity of Egypt.

The revolution in Egypt is far from over. While all this unrest next door is uncomfortable for Israelis, it is not a major threat. The Egyptian military does not want war with Israel (which the generals know they would lose, big time, along with billions in American aid), nor do most Egyptians. The Islamic radicals, including Hamas in Gaza, do wish harm to Israel. But the Islamic radicals are anathema to most Egyptians and even the Morsi government was forced to crack down. The problem (or advantage) with Islamic radicals is that they tend to turn on those who actually support them and hasten their own demise. Better relations with Israel would be of great economic benefit to Egypt, but that is not likely to happen until the malign effects of generations of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda are tended to. That would take years and Egypt hasn’t even considered going there yet. What any new Egyptian government will have to do is show some economic results and fast.

The Moslem Brotherhood and other Islamic conservative groups that supported the Morsi government are now organizing protests. Some of the more radical Morsi supporters are planning terror attacks. All this will only increase the popular dislike for the Brotherhood and Islamic radicals. There will always be Islamic conservatives in Egypt but the memories of the 1990s linger, on both sides of this political fence.

The ouster of Morsi is bad news for Hamas in Gaza. Because Morsi favored Islamic radical beliefs, Hamas saw Morsi as a friend. Morsi, however, insisted that Hamas help control the Islamic radicals in Gaza who considered Morsi “too moderate.” Hamas was happy to comply because these radical groups considered Hamas too mainstream as well. With the departure of Morsi, the political winds have shifted and not in favor of Hamas. To be on the safe side Hamas has not criticized the Egyptian Army for overthrowing Morsi and is hoping for the best, while bracing for the worst.

Israel has increased military training exercises on the Lebanese and Syrian borders. Reserve units are being prepared for any possible spillover of violence into Israel. On the Egyptian border Israeli cooperation with their Egyptian counterparts improved during the year of Morsi rule, and that has not changed with the overthrow of Morsi. Most Egyptians, especially those in the security forces, are hostile to all forms of Islamic extremism.

The pro-Islamic government in Turkey was not happy with the overthrow of Morsi, who was not seen as an ally of Turkey but at least a kindred (Islamic) spirit. Some Turkish Islamic conservatives blame Israel for the fall of Morsi but then, these guys blame Israel for everything bad. Turkey is suffering from anti-government demonstrations. Not because the government has hurt the economy (quite the opposite) but because there is growing fear that the Islamic conservatives that dominate the government are becoming less democratic and more dictatorial.

In the last two months anti-Israel violence in the West Bank is down by about two-thirds. Most of the violence consisted of throwing rocks or fire bombs (bottles full of flammable liquid) at soldiers, police, and Israeli civilians. After the November 2012 “war” with Hamas in Gaza many Palestinians in the West Bank wanted to start another major wave of violence, and the amount of such violence in the West Bank started to climb. But the Israelis identified and jailed most of the leaders and organizers of the increased violence and eventually even the Palestinian government in the West Bank agreed to cooperate as the increased violence and Israeli response (more movement restrictions) angered most Palestinians, who saw nothing good coming from it.

July 10, 2013: Although the Egyptian military role in overthrowing the Morsi government was technically a coup (by American definition) and U.S. law bans military aid to any country that suffers such a coup, the U.S. is continuing to deliver military aid to Egypt. The Americans cannot ignore the fact that Morsi was unpopular and his removal was very popular in Egypt. So the American lawyers and politicians are scrambling to create some plausible reason to continue aid to Egypt.

The army is using Moslem Brotherhood organized demonstrations and violence as justification to order the arrest of more Brotherhood leaders. The army is doing what it did two decades ago to cripple Brotherhood capabilities.

July 8, 2013: The military revealed that it had activated new military Cyber War units dedicated to monitoring networks for Internet based attacks and organizing a quick response. Photos of the operations center for this new unit were shown.

For the first time since the F-16I was introduced in 1998, one suffered an engine failure and crashed. The two man crew ejected and were picked up off the coast. The air force temporarily grounded all its F-16s and F-15s until it could be determined that there was not some common problem at fault.

In Egypt the army opened fire on a demonstration by Islamic radicals and Morsi supporters, killing over fifty of the demonstrators and wounding over a hundred. The army said some of the demonstrators opened fire on the soldiers.

July 7, 2013: The government repeated warnings to Israelis to stay out of the Sinai Peninsula unless it was absolutely necessary. The government noted that Islamic terrorists are more active in the Sinai, as are Egyptian troops and police trying to control the situation.

Hamas revealed that its police had broken up a gang that was counterfeiting Israeli currency and getting it into circulation via Gaza market places. The 100 Shekel ($27.65) notes were good enough to fool some merchants but the counterfeiting was soon noted and the hunt for those responsible was on. The three arrested counterfeiters had already created about $5.5 million worth of these fake notes.

July 5, 2013: There was a large explosion at the Syrian naval base at Latakia. Syrian rebels said this was probably an Israeli missile attack on the warehouse holding new anti-ship missiles recently received from Russia. These high-speed P-800/Yakhont missiles have a range of about 300 kilometers and a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead.

In the Sinai Islamic terrorists made four attacks on security personnel, killing one soldier and wounding three. The attackers were believed to have come from Gaza, so the main border crossing from Gaza to Egypt at Rafah was closed indefinitely.

In Cairo there was a large demonstration by Islamic radicals and Morsi supporters. One demonstrator was killed.

The Egyptian military shut down parliament until new elections.

July 4, 2013: Explosions were heard near the Israeli city of Eilat (at the northern end of the Red Sea). It was later discovered that at least one 122mm rocket was fired from the nearby Egyptian Sinai Desert. A week later Israeli troops found 122mm rocket fragments outside Eilat. The last such attack was last April. These attacks are launched by Islamic terrorists operating in the Sinai Peninsula.

July 3, 2013: President Morsi was arrested by the army and his government was replaced by military rule until new elections could be held. 

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