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So Much for Egypt’s Secret Alliance with Israel

The New York Times reports that Israel and Egypt are secretly working together to fight ISIS on the Sinai Peninsula. For more than two years now, with official Egyptian approval, the state of Israel has conducted more than 100 air strikes inside Egypt using planes, helicopters and drones that fly in long winding arcs to appear as though they’re coming from the direction of Cairo. The Egyptian army  denies the report, but the Israelis do not. Jerusalem is simply declining to comment.  

Jihadists in the Sinai have been waging a deadly insurgency against the Egyptian government since shortly after the army arrested long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The insurgency consists of a hodgepodge groups, from disgruntled Bedouin tribes to Al Qaeda, but more recently, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the most powerful and organized faction, changed its name to Islamic State-Sinai Province, as if their territory, such as it is, is the “caliphate’s” detached exclave province in Egypt.

They’ve already killed thousands of people, downed a Russian passenger jet with a two-pound bomb smuggled onboard, murdered chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat with a car bomb in Cairo, massacred hundreds of fellow Muslims at a mosque just a couple of months ago, and even briefly seized control of the small town of Sheikh Zuwaid barely a dozen miles from Egypt’s border with Gaza and Israel. They’ve used Russian-made missiles to shoot down helicopters, blow up tanks and sink patrol boats and have left a bloody trail of civilian dead from the Sinai to Alexandria and Cairo.

In a less stupid world than the one we actually live in, the military alliance between Egypt and Israel would be neither controversial nor secret. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and ISIS and its affiliates are Egypt’s and Israel’s common enemies.

To describe that peace as a cold one, however, is putting things mildly. Egypt is one of the most virulently anti-Semitic countries in the world, much more so than even most Arab countries, especially compared with those that are farthest away like Morocco and Oman. Egypt’s “mainstream” state-run media is awash with the kind of insanity you’ll only find in the West on Alex Jones’ radio show, including accusations that Israel exports the AIDS virus all over the world, corrupts Egyptian youth with aphrodisiac bubble gum, and economically enslaves the planet the way Jews supposedly did in the run-up to the Holocaust.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is quite right to partner with Israel in the Sinai, but he’s committing one of the same long-term mistakes that Mubarak did for so many decades by refusing to order the media to tone down the hysteria. I’m all for press freedom, of course—especially here in the West—but Egypt has never had a free press and almost certainly won’t any time soon, so if the government must control the editorial line, at the very least it ought to use that power for good at least occasionally.

Egyptians are suffering from their own bigoted attitudes far more than the Israelis are nowadays anyway. Peoples and governments gripped by paranoid conspiracy theories (bigoted or otherwise) are incapable of solving their problems, partly because they aren’t diagnosing what ails them correctly but also because they waste time, energy and resources jousting with ghosts, at times with debilitating and bloody results. History is replete with examples, from the Salem Witch Trials to Nazi Germany. To frame it another way, imagine visiting a doctor with respiratory symptoms and he puts you on chemotherapy for a cancer you don’t have instead of a course of antibiotics that would easily cure the pneumonia you do have. You’ll just lay there in bed, half dead from terrible side effects, and get sicker.

No one should expect Egypt’s state messengers and propagandists to tout the Israelis as friends and allies, but they might want to consider cooling their jets for a while and cover their neighbors realistically. Contrary to popular belief, the state of Israel poses no threat whatsoever to Egypt. The Israelis will never, ever, randomly wake up one morning and decide to invade Egypt just for the heck of it. ISIS, however, has already chewed two Arab countries to pieces.

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