Only several years ago, with the outbreak of the regional turmoil naively phrased by western media as the “Arab Spring,” Egypt was the epicenter of Mideast instability. Preoccupied with internal strife and brewing crisis with the Obama administration, Egypt seemed absent from the picture of regional leadership.
But now it seems that Egypt is assuming a regional leadership position, once again. This time, with the backing of the Trump administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for example, said at the beginning of his regional tour that the administration stands by Egypt in its fight against Islamism. With Egypt leading the way the road to regional stability looks promising more than ever:
Egypt’s evolving cooperation with Israel is one strong indication. With Israel as its silent partner, Egypt is forming a new regional reality based on Realpolitik. Per The New York Times, Israel has carried out over 100 airstrikes in Sinai, in support of Presidents El Sisi’s just campaign against terrorist cells. If true, then Israel and Egypt have moved beyond intelligence sharing into actual military cooperation on security matters. They are allies. In other places that may deserve applause and public recognition, but in the Middle East of today silence is sometimes golden.
What this means is that under the radar Israel is helping to save lives of Egyptians, on the one hand, and minimize risk posed by Jihadist and criminal elements active in the Sinai Peninsula on the other.
Oddly, the revelation made by The New York Times made very little noise in our region. This silence signals a very profound shift: the acceptance of this new reality based on the compatibility of self-interests. Israel and Egypt are fighting shoulder to shoulder where they had once fought each other. Both countries goals in the Sinai are compatible.
Another strong indication that times have changed: oil and gas. One would expect the tone to have changed when the Israeli gas consortium, Noble Energy and Delek Drilling, signed a $15 billion deal to supply approximately 64 billion cubic meters to Egypt over 10 years. In the past, the notion that Egypt was buying “Zionist” gas would have been enough to stir instability. But not now. This mega deal, too, gets the silent treatment. A landmark deal between Israel and the most populist Arab country with its nearly 90 million citizens, is hailed by the Egyptian president as a goal. These are different days, not the ones we were used to in this region.
But the real bewilderment manifested when President Donald Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. For decades, we were warned that such decision would bring about regional chaos. The Middle East would go up in flames the president was warned, the moderate Arab states would have to pull back from any peace talks. The reality: silence again. Moreover, another New York Times article revealed Egyptian leaders’ acceptance of the Jerusalem move. Clearly, Egypt’s relevance to current U.S. policy-making in the region proved to be critical.
Egypt’s role in our region has shifted. It has taken the proactive approach assuming a leadership position in the fight against terrorism while focusing on economic growth. It seems that Egypt’s new approach — to liberalize its business sectors, welcome foreign direct investment, cooperate on defense and security, and focus on eradicating extremism — is good news for all countries seeking a more stable middle east. These are all the marks of stability.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University’s School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel’s largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel’s Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master’s in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. To reach more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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