July 12, 2007
In his second article on key principles of Zionist strategy, Hassan Nafaa describes how keeping Egypt weak is a lynchpin of Israel’s regional ambitions. (The writer is professor of political science at Cairo University.)
In the first instalment of what I intended would be a short series of articles, I wrote that Oded Yinon’s 1982 study entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s” is the most detailed account so far of the Zionist mindset; how it works and how it aspires to manage conflict with the Arab world in a way that leads to the creation of a dominant Jewish state in the region. My contention is that Yinon’s study should be regarded as a practical manifesto of the Zionist movement, and not just the opinion of an obscure Jewish writer or a former Israeli diplomat.
Yinon’s study appeared in Hebrew in Kivunim (or Directions), a publication dedicated to Jewish questions and the Zionist movement in general. The Association of Arab American University Graduates took a special interest in this study following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It asked Professor Israel Shahak, a well-known Israeli activist, to translate it into English. The study was republished with a foreword and epilogue by Shahak and given the title “The Zionist Plan for the Middle East”, in order to show that Yinon wasn’t just expressing a personal opinion.
The most disturbing thing about the Yinon’s paper is Egypt’s central role in the Zionist movement’s strategy to dismember the Arab world. Although the study was written about five years after former President Anwar El-Sadat visited the Knesset, four years after Egypt signed the two Camp David agreements, and three years after the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty went into effect, and although Yinon was fully aware that Egypt’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel had cost it dearly, isolating it from the rest of the Arab world and undermining its standing in the international arena, this didn’t change in any way how the Zionists regarded Egypt.
Yinon was clearly convinced that no strategy to divide the Arab world would succeed without first weakening the one country that has one-third of the Arab population and that is the region’s acknowledged leader. So Yinon makes a point of proving that Egypt is weak, divisible, and nothing more than a paper tiger. Egypt, he maintains, won’t be able to protect the Arab world against dismemberment and ultimate downfall. To prove his point, Yinon proffers three assumptions.
- The first assumption concerns the nature of the Egyptian political system. Yinon tries to prove that the Egyptian regime is incompetent, bankrupt and generally hapless. The state apparatus in Egypt is so bureaucratic and complex, according to Yinon, that it couldn’t possibly take any initiative or achieve anything significant in any field. Although Yinon admits that the Egyptian army is an exceptional case, as it can sometimes break from the terrible grip of Egyptian bureaucracy, as it did in 1973, he claims that the rest of the country’s sectors are in a miserable shape, fighting for mere survival and reproducing past mishaps in a manner that renders the entire country semi-incapacitated.
- The second assumption concerns the nature of Egypt’s socio-economic system. Yinon argues that Egypt is overpopulated, short of resources, and technologically and scientifically backward to the point that it cannot provide for its population who live on a tiny geographical slice of the country’s total territories. US aid has helped Egypt stay afloat, but this aid is linked to the peace process and therefore temporary. Yinon claims that the Egyptian social system is class-based and so discriminatory that a small part of the population is getting richer while the rest is getting poorer. Because Egypt’s system of services, especially in education and health, is barely functioning, the country is unlikely to achieve real development in the foreseeable future, he notes.
- The third assumption concerns Egypt’s stability and sectarian coexistence. Egypt, Yinon claims, is unstable because a significant Coptic minority is persecuted, marginalised, and excluded from any participation in public life. The Copts make up almost 10 per cent of the population. They are a majority in some parts of the south and have developed a tendency for isolation following the rise of fundamentalist Islam. The Copts are mostly ready for secession and would consider independence a good option, he concludes.
Based on these three assumptions — which Yinon treats as indisputable facts — Yinon surmises that Egypt is superficially a strong country but is actually fragile and weak. The country’s weakness became apparent in 1956 and a fact known to all after the 1967 defeat, which slashed Egypt’s capabilities by at least 50 per cent. Yinon says that Egypt’s restoration of Sinai, with its considerable natural resources, especially in oil and gas, gave it some respite. He adds that Israel should do everything it can to prevent Egypt from fully recovering.
As part of its quest to divide the Arab world, Israel should follow a two-pronged approach to Egypt. First, it should regain control of Sinai. Secondly, it should encourage the creation of a dominantly Coptic state in Upper Egypt, Yinon suggests.
Concerning the first objective, Yinon warns Israel against adopting a policy of compromise and territorial concessions. He advises Israel against giving up any of the land it occupied. Interestingly, Yinon makes none of the conventional arguments related to Israel’s biblical claims. Instead, he offers arguments of a mainly economic nature. He says that Israel needs an increasing supply of energy, especially oil and gas, and some of the mineral resources of Sinai. Those resources, he argues, are essential to Israel’s strategy and independence.
It is not hard, however, to see through this argument. Yinon points, both implicitly and explicitly, to a long-term strategy. Sinai is a sparsely populated area and suitable for urban development. Sinai is an area that could be used to absorb the population growth among the Palestinians of Gaza, or even to offer a lasting solution to the refugees’ problem. Alternatively, Sinai could be used to house those Jewish immigrants who — once Israel becomes the region’s dominant power — would start arriving from other parts of the world.
As to the Coptic issue, Yinon advises Israel to sow sedition between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts with the ultimate aim of creating a dominantly Sunni Muslim state in the north and a dominantly Christian one in the south. Yinon sees this option as the best way to weaken the central state in Egypt and deprive the Arab world of the one country that could hold it together. Once Egypt is divided, Libya and Sudan would fall apart, even without foreign intervention, he says.
I would like the young generations of Arabs, especially in Egypt, to note the timing of Yinon’s study. This study came out in February 1982, which is a few weeks after the assassination of Sadat and ahead of Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, which was completed on 25 April 1982. Israel withdrew from Sinai in the scheduled time but only after it created a phoney dispute over Taba; a dispute that it hoped it could use as pretext to recapture Sinai. A few months after Yinon’s study was released, Israel invaded Lebanon on 5 June 1982. It besieged Beirut, installed one of its allies in power, and forced him to sign a peace treaty on 17 May 1983.
Had things gone according to plan in Lebanon, and had Israel been able to impose its hegemony on the Arab world, it would have turned against Egypt once more and found a pretext to recapture Sinai. Then it would have interfered in Egyptian domestic affairs and driven a wedge between Copts and Muslims.
I would like to remind the young people in this country that Israel’s strategy was foiled only by the steadfastness of the Lebanese resistance, by the ability of that resistance to bring down the May 1983 treaty, and by subsequent Intifadas in Palestine. This course of events is what protected Egypt, however temporarily, from the designs that Israel had in mind. Israel’s failure in Lebanon has saved the entire region from the partitioning Yinon talks about, and I will discuss this point further in my next article.
But Israel’s failure didn’t stop it from trying. So it tried its luck once again in Iraq — also to no avail. Still, Israel hasn’t given up, and it is not going to give up. So I urge all our young people to read what Yinon wrote. Read his exact words and not just the account I am giving here.
The writer is professor of political science at Cairo University.