Tag Archives: Middle East

Egypt and the Strategic Balance from Stratfor

Text Size


“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/egypt-and-strategic-balance”>Egypt and the Strategic Balance</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer

Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire  in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi,  elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni  Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter  the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high  court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the  Muslim Brotherhood’s power. Following the decree, Morsi’s political opponents  launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and  uncertainty.

In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international  note. But Egypt  is not just another country. It is the largest Arab country and one that has  been the traditional center of the Arab world. Equally important, if Egypt’s  domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect  the regional balance of power for decades to come.

Morsi’s Challenge to the Nasserite Model

The Arab Spring was seen by some observers to be a largely secular movement  aimed at establishing constitutional democracy. The problem with this theory was  that while the demonstrators might have had the strength to force an election,  it was not certain that the secular constitutionalists would win it. They  didn’t. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while there were  numerous claims that he was a moderate member, it was simply not understood that  he was a man of conviction and honor and that his membership in the Brotherhood  was not casual or frivolous. His intention was to strengthen the role of Islam  in Egypt and the control of the Muslim Brotherhood over the various arms of  state. His rhetoric, speed and degree of Islamism might have been less extreme  than others, but his intent was clear.

The move on the judiciary signaled his intent to begin consolidating power.  It galvanized opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included secular  constitutionalists, Copts and other groups who formed a coalition that was  prepared to take to the streets to oppose his move. What it did not include, or  at least did not visibly include through this point, was the Egyptian military,  which refused to  be drawn in on either side.

The Egyptian military, led by a young army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, founded the  modern Egyptian state when it overthrew the British-supported monarchy in  the 1950s. It created a state that was then secular, authoritarian and  socialist. It aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union and against the United States  through the 1970s. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Egyptian President Anwar  Sadat, who was later assassinated by Islamists, shifted Egypt into an alliance  with the United States and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

This treaty was the foundation of the regional balance of power until now.  The decision to end the state of war with Israel and use Sinai as a  demilitarized buffer between the two countries eliminated the threat of  nation-to-nation war between Arabs and Israel. Egypt was the most powerful Arab  country and its hostility to Israel represented Israel’s greatest threat. By  withdrawing from confrontation, the threat to Israel declined dramatically.  Jordan, Syria and Lebanon did not represent a significant threat to Israel and  could not launch a war that threatened Israel’s survival.

Egypt’s decision to align with the United States and make peace with Israel  shaped the regional balance of power in other ways. Syria could no longer depend  on Egypt, and ultimately turned to Iran for support. The Arab monarchies that  had been under political and at times military pressure from Egypt were relieved  of the threat, and the Soviets lost the Egyptian bases that had given them  a foothold in the Mediterranean.

The fundamental question in Egypt is whether the election of Morsi  represented the end of the regime founded by Nasser or was simply a passing  event, with power still in the hands of the military. Morsi has made a move  designed to demonstrate his power and to change the way the Egyptian judiciary  works. The uprising against this move, while significant, did not seem to have  the weight needed either to force Morsi to do more than modify his tactics a bit  or to threaten his government. Therefore, it all hangs on whether the military  is capable of or interested in intervening.

It is ironic that the demands of the liberals in Egypt should depend on  military intervention, and it is unlikely that they will get what they want from  the military if it does intervene. But what is clear is that the Muslim  Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt, that Morsi is very much a member of  the Brotherhood and while his tactics might be more deliberate and circumspect  than more radical members might want, it is still headed in the same  direction.

For the moment, the protesters in the streets do not appear able to force  Morsi’s hand, and the military doesn’t seem likely to intervene. If that is  true, then Egypt has entered a new domestic era with a range of open foreign  policy issues. The first is the future of the treaty with Israel. The issue is  not the treaty per se, but the maintenance of Sinai as a buffer. One of the  consequences of Mubarak’s ouster has been the partial  remilitarization of Sinai by Egypt, with Israel’s uneasy support. Sinai has  become a zone in which Islamist radicals are active and launch  operations against Israel. The Egyptian military has moved into Sinai to  suppress them, which Israel obviously supports. But the Egyptians have also  established the principle that while Sinai may be a notional buffer zone, in  practice the Egyptian military can be present in and responsible for it. The  intent might be one that Israel supports but the outcome could be a Sinai  remilitarized by the Egyptians.

A remilitarized Sinai would change the strategic balance, but it would only  be the beginning. The Egyptian army uses American equipment and depends on the  United States for spare parts, maintenance and training. Its equipment is  relatively old and it has not been tested in combat for nearly 40 years. Even if  the Egyptian military was in Sinai, it would not pose a significant conventional  military threat to Israel in its current form. These things can change, however.  The transformation of the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 was impressive.  The difference is that Egypt had a patron in the Soviet Union then that was  prepared to underwrite the cost of the transformation. Today, there is no global  power, except the United States, that would be capable of dramatically and  systematically upgrading the Egyptian military and financially supporting the  country overall. Still, if the Morsi government succeeds in institutionalizing  its power and uses that power to change the dynamic of the Sinai buffer, Israel  will lose several layers of security.

A New Regional Alignment?

A look at the rest of the region shows that Egypt is by no means the only  country of concern for Israel. Syria, for example, has an uprising that, in  simple terms, largely consists of Sunnis, many of which are Islamists.  That in itself represents a threat to Israel, particularly if the relationship  between Syria and Egypt were revived. There is an ideological kinship, and just  as Nasserism had an evangelical dimension, wanting to spread pan-Arab ideology  throughout the region, the Muslim Brotherhood has one too. The Syrian Muslim  Brotherhood is also the most organized and coherent opposition group in  Syria. As Morsi consolidates his power in Egypt, his willingness to engage  in foreign adventures, or at least covert support, for like-minded insurgents  and regimes could very well increase. At a minimum Israel would have to take  this seriously. Similarly, where Gaza  was contained not only by Israel but also by pre-Morsi Egypt, Morsi might  choose to dramatically change Egypt’s Gaza policy.

Morsi’s rise opens other possibilities as well. Turkey’s Islamic-rooted  Justice and Development Party is also engaged in a careful process of  reintroducing Islam into a state that was militantly secular. There are fundamental  differences between Egypt and Turkey, but there is also much in common.  Turkey and Egypt are now engaged in parallel processes designed to create modern  countries that recognize their Islamic roots. A Turkish-Egyptian relationship  would both undergird the Egyptian regime and create a regional force that could  shape the Eastern Mediterranean.

This would, of course, affect American strategy, which as  we have said in the past, is now rapidly moving away from excessive  involvement in the Middle East. It is not clear how far Morsi would go in  breaking with the United States or whether the military would or could draw a  line at that point. Egypt is barely  skirting economic disaster at the moment because it is receiving a broad  range of financial aid from the West. Moving away from the United States would  presumably go well beyond military aid and affect these other types of economic  assistance.

The fact is that as Egypt gradually evolves, its relationship with the United  States might also change. The United States’ relationship  with Turkey has changed but has not broken since the Justice and Development  Party came to power, with Turkey following a more independent direction. If a  similar process occurred in Egypt, the United States would find itself in a very  different position in the Eastern Mediterranean, one in which its only ally was  Israel, and its relationship with Israel might alienate the critical  Turkey-Egypt bloc.

Prior to 1967, the United States was careful not be become overly involved in  protecting Israel, leaving that to France. Assuming that this speculation about  a shift in Egypt’s strategic posture came to pass, Israel would not be in  serious military danger for quite a while, and the United States could view its  support to Israel as flexible. The United States could conceivably choose to  distance itself from Israel in order to maintain its relationships with Egypt  and Turkey. A strategy of selective disengagement and  redefined engagement, which appears to be under way in the United States now,  could alter relations with Israel.

From an Israeli point of view — it should be remembered that Israel is the  dominant power in the region — a shift in Egypt would create significant  uncertainty on its frontier. It would now face  uncertainty in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and while unlikely, the possibility  of uncertainty in Jordan. Where previously it faced hostile powers with  substantial military capabilities, it would now face weaker powers that are  less predictable. However, in an age when Israel’s primary concern is with  terrorist actions and uprisings in Gaza and the West Bank, this band of  uncertainty would be an incubator of such actions.

The worst-case scenario is the re-emergence of confrontational states on its  border, armed with conventional weapons and capable of challenging the Israeli  military. That is not an inconceivable evolution but it is not a threat in the  near term. The next-worst-case scenario would be the creation of multiple states  on Israel’s border prepared to sponsor or at least tolerate Islamist attacks on  Israel from their territory and to underwrite uprisings among the Palestinians.  The effect would be an extended, wearying test of Israel’s ability to deal with  unremitting low-intensity threats from multiple directions.

Conventional war is hard to imagine. It is less difficult to imagine a shift  in Egyptian policy that creates a sustained low-intensity conflict not only  south of Israel, but also along the entire Israeli periphery as Egypt’s  influence is felt. It is fairly clear that Israel has not absorbed the  significance of this change or how it will respond. It may well not have a  response. But if that were the case, then Israel’s conventional dominance would  no longer define the balance of power. And the United States is entering a  period of unpredictability in its foreign policy. The entire region becomes  unpredictable.

It is not clear that any of this will come to pass. Morsi might not be able  to impose his will in the country. He may not survive politically. The Egyptian  military might intervene directly or indirectly. There are several hurdles for  Morsi to overcome before he controls the country, and his timeline might be  extended for implementing changes. But for the moment, Morsi appears in charge,  he seems to be weathering the challenges and the army has not moved. Therefore,  considering the strategic consequences is appropriate, and those strategic  consequences appear substantial.

Read more:  Egypt and the Strategic Balance | Stratfor

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs

A Pause for Negotiations in the Israel-Hamas Conflict from Stratfor

The latest thoughts of George Friedman of Strafor on the situation in Gaza. Click here for a previous report.

“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/pause-negotiations-israeli-hamas-conflict”>A Pause for Negotiations in the Israeli-Hamas Conflict</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

The Israeli-Hamas conflict has entered into a negotiation phase. Both sides  want talks. Hamas wants them because any outcome that prevents an Israeli ground  assault gives it the opportunity to retain some of its arsenal  of Fajr-5 rockets; the Israelis want them because the cost of an  invasion could be high, and they recall the political fallout of Operation Cast  Lead in 2008, which alienated many European and other governments.

No matter how much either side might want to avoid ground warfare,  negotiations are unlikely to forestall an Israeli assault because Hamas’ and  Israel’s goals leave little middle ground.

Visit our Israel  page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.

One of Hamas’ main goals in this current round of fighting is to retain  enough Fajr-5 rockets to allow it to threaten the Israeli heartland, the Tel  Aviv-Jerusalem corridor. If they succeed, Hamas will have gained a significant  lever in its relations with the Israelis. The Israeli goal is to deny Hamas  these rockets. The problem for the Israelis is that this requires a ground  assault in order to have any chance of success. The Israelis may think they know  where the rockets are, but they cannot be certain. Airstrikes can target known  facilities, at least those where rockets are not stored in hardened underground  bunkers. But only by going in on the ground with substantial force will the  Israelis have the opportunity to search for and destroy the rockets.

Finding middle ground will be difficult. The retention of the Fajr-5 both  dramatically improves Hamas’ strategic position and gives Hamas the chance to  further weaken the Palestinian National Authority. Hamas cannot agree to any  deal that takes the rockets away — or that does not at least leave open the  possibility that it could have them. Meanwhile, Israel simply cannot live with  the Fajr-5 in the hands of Hamas.

Lack of International Involvement

It is interesting to note the remarkable indifference of most countries that  normally rush to mediate such disputes, the United States chief among them.  Washington has essentially endorsed the Israeli position so strongly that it has  no option to mediate. The Turks, who had been involved with the Gaza issue  during the flotilla  incident of May 2010, have taken no steps beyond rhetoric in spite of  relations with both Hamas and Israel. The Saudis have also avoided getting  involved.

The Egyptians have been the most active in trying to secure a cease fire:  Beyond sending their prime minister into Gaza on Nov. 16, as well as their  intelligence chief and a group of security officials, Cairo then hosted a  delegation of senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad members to further this goal. But  while the Egyptians have a great interest in preventing an Israeli ground  invasion of Gaza and are crucial to the Israeli imperative to prevent weapons  smuggling via Gaza, there is little more they can do at present to mediate  between the two sides.

If no one seems to want to serve as mediator, it is because there is such  little room for negotiation. It is not ideology but strategy that locks each  side into place. Hamas has come this far and does not want to give up what it  has maneuvered for. Israel cannot allow Hamas a weapon that threatens the  Israeli heartland. This situation is too serious for the parties to reach an  agreement that ends the hostilities for now but in reality simply pushes back  the issues to be addressed later. No one is eager to mediate a failure. U.N.  Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has said he will go to Gaza in the coming week,  but he will not be in a position to find middle ground.

Israel will not budge on this. Hamas could be compelled to relent under  threat from its core financial supporters in the Arabian Peninsula, but these  states, such as Qatar, are all far more concerned with the threat posed by Iran.  The fact that these rockets likely originated with Iran ought to give them  incentive to lean on Hamas.

Dubious Prospects for Negotiations

It is important to bear in mind that the war is already under way. Israeli  airstrikes are intense and continuous. Hamas is firing rockets at Israel.  What has not yet happened is a direct ground attack on Gaza by the Israelis,  although they have been mobilizing forces and should now be in a position to  attack if they so choose. But the Israelis would much rather not attack. They  fear the consequences — measured both in human casualties and in political  fallout — that would certainly follow.

Thus, both sides want a negotiated end on terms that would leave the other  side in an impossible position. While Hamas might be able to live with the  status quo, Israel cannot. A negotiated end is therefore unlikely. Still, both  sides are signaling their willingness to talk, and however forlorn the  possibilities, there is a chance that something could be arranged.

We remain of the opinion that this current pause will be followed by a ground  assault. Only by expanding the discussion beyond the Fajr-5 to a broader  settlement of Hamas-Israeli issues could these negotiations succeed, but that  would require Hamas recognizing Israel’s right to exist and Israel accepting the  equivalent of a Palestinian state run by Hamas in Gaza — one that might spread  its power to the West Bank. The more expansive the terms of these negotiations  get, the more dubious their prospects for success — and these negotiations  start off fairly dubious as it is.

Read more:  A Pause for Negotiations in the Israeli-Hamas Conflict | Stratfor

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs

Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict from Stratfor

This report originally appeared on Stratfor, which describes itself as follow:

Stratfor is a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis. Individual  and corporate subscribers gain a thorough understanding of international  affairs, including what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what will happen  next.

Read more:  About Us | Stratfor

The bulk of its reports are available only to paid subscribers, but a reasonable number, including this one, are free:

“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/update-israel-gaza-conflict”>Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Summary

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

An Israeli rocket fired from the Iron Dome in Tel Aviv on  Nov. 17

New intelligence indicates forces in Gaza may be manufacturing long-range  rockets locally. If this is the case, a significant ground force offers the  Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these  weapons. Meanwhile, Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza, and Gaza  continues its long-range rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers,  though Israel claims its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most of the  rockets.

Analysis

Israel appears to be positioning itself for a ground operation, perhaps as  early as the night of Nov. 17. The Israeli Cabinet on Nov. 16 approved Defense  Minister Ehud Barak’s request to call up 75,000 reservists, significantly more  than during Operation Cast  Lead in 2008-2009. The Israeli army meanwhile has also sought to strengthen  its presence on the borders with Gaza. Primary roads leading to Gaza and running  parallel to Sinai have been declared closed military zones. Tanks, armored  personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and troops continue to stream to  the border, and many units already appear to be in position.

During Operation Cast Lead, the Israelis transitioned to the ground phase  around 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2009. Going in during dark hours allows the IDF to  take advantage of its superior night-fighting equipment and training, including  the use of night vision goggles and thermal optics.

The Israeli air force remained active throughout the night of Nov. 16-17,  striking at targets across the Gaza Strip including key Hamas ministries, police  stations and tunnels near the border crossing with Egypt. The IAF reportedly  carried out strikes in Rafah’s al-Sulan and al-Zahour neighborhoods, as well as  east of the al-Maghazi refugee camp. According to IDF reports, the air force  carried out a rapid and coordinated military strike, targeting approximately 70  underground medium-range rocket-launching sites in the less than an hour. The  IDF claims direct hits were confirmed. The IAF will increasingly target Hamas  militant defenses ahead of any ground invasion. Already the IAF has bombed  militant defensive positions, particularly in the northern part of the Gaza  Strip.

Meanwhile, Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza have been actively  striking back at Israel. More than 80 rockets have been launched from Gaza over  the past 24 hours. Of the rockets launched Nov. 17, approximately 57 landed in  Israel. According to the IDF, a total of 640 rockets have been launched since  Nov. 14, with 410 landing in Israel. A long-range rocket was fired from Gaza  toward Tel Aviv at approximately 4:45 p.m. local time Nov. 17 but was  successfully intercepted by the recently deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket defense  system in the area. Hamas continues to target areas around Ashkelon, Ashdod and  Beersheva, with the Iron Dome system intercepting five rockets over Ashkelon at  5:15 p.m. The majority of rockets launched from Gaza appear to be of shorter  range than the Fajr-5. The IDF has stated its Iron Dome interceptors have so far  successfully intercepted 90 percent of the rockets, though this may be an  exaggeration.

One of the long-range rockets was intercepted by the newly installed Iron  Dome battery in the Tel Aviv area. A Stratfor source has indicated that the  rocket was not a Fajr-5, but was a locally manufactured long-range rocket in  Hamas’ arsenal.

If militants in Gaza are now able to locally manufacture their own long-range  rockets that can target Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities, it would be a  worrisome development for Israel. Thus far, Israel has been able to focus its  efforts on limiting the supply of these rockets to Gaza through interdiction  efforts, such as the alleged Oct.  23 strike on the Yarmouk arms factory in Sudan. But if Palestinian militants  can manufacture long-range rockets in Gaza, it will be much more difficult for  Israel to restrict Gaza’s inventory of these rockets. Beyond rocket launch  sites and caches, which Israel is currently targeting with its airstrikes, it  would need to target production sites and those who would be responsible for  manufacturing the rockets.

Furthermore, it will be significantly harder for Israeli intelligence to form  an accurate picture of the number of these rockets locally constructed in Gaza.  We have already seen that Israeli intelligence likely did not anticipate how many long-range rockets had  escaped its first wave of strikes, and the fact that Hamas may have been  producing these weapons could explain Israel’s lack of complete information.

Hamas recognizes that these long-range rocket attacks have only increased the  likelihood and intensity of an Israeli ground incursion. A significant ground  force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the  factories making these long-range rockets as well as the shorter-range Qassams.  Hamas and the other militants therefore are actively preparing their defenses  for the anticipated incursion and are likely laying improvised explosive  devices, setting up road blocks and defensive emplacements and sorting out their  ranks and tasks.

Hamas has already announced that its Al Murabiteen units, consisting of five  brigades spread across Gaza, will be concentrated in the border region to limit  Israeli penetration into the Gaza Strip. Learning from Hezbollah’s example in  2006, special units of Hamas are relying heavily on tunnels to maintain  communications. Should Israel be drawn into more densely populated areas of Gaza  in pursuit of weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, Hamas has also  reportedly prepared its suicide bombers, known as Istishadiyeen, to raise the  cost for Israel in an urban battle.

Read more:  Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict | Stratfor

2 Comments

Filed under Current affairs