Egyptian Commander: War With Israel 'Inevitable'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Twenty-one years after Israel and Egypt signed the first-ever Israeli-Arab accord at Camp David, relations between the two countries remain chilly.

Highlighting the tenuous nature of the peace, a top Egyptian military commander has said that war with Israel is inevitable. Field Marshal Abd Al-Halim Abu Ghazaleh made the comment in a media interview where he outlined what he sees as Israel's vulnerability to a concerted Arab attack.

Even if Israel and the Palestinian Authority reach an agreement in their Camp David talks to end decades of hostilities between them, Israel's ambassador to Egypt doesn't believe ties with Egypt are likely to improve.

According to media reports, Ambassador Zvi Mazel recently sent a cable to Jerusalem saying Egypt was not interested in normalizing relations with Israel but rather in continuing the "cold war" that exists between the neighbors.

While Egypt was not interested in a military conflict, it intended to continue to fight Israel on economic and cultural fronts, he said.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Amira Cohen said that she "can't deny" that the ministry had received a cable from Mazel, but that it was "confidential." She confirmed that it dealt with relations between Israel and Egypt.

Author and Islamic Affairs expert Victor Mordechai said it was "absolutely correct" that Egypt has no intention of warming relations with Israel. He believes, however, that the military option is still very real for Egypt.

"The plan has never changed," Mordechai said. "[When Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak was an ambitious career officer, he said he would be the next Saladin." Saladin was an Islamic military leader who captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.

The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979, following the Camp David Accords signed the previous year under the sponsorship of President Jimmy Carter.

Egypt scored heavily in the agreement. It got back the entire Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had captured during the Six Day War in1967, and it also received billions of dollars in military aid from the U.S., enabling Cairo to upgrade its army and air force into a highly sophisticated military power.

Although full diplomatic ties were established between the two countries two decades ago, relations since then have been cool at best. Tourism is primarily one-sided with thousands of Israelis visiting Egypt each year, but few Egyptians making the trip to Israel.

The Egyptian media and press also regularly berate Israel and frequently in cartoons and editorials promote anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiments.

But Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouny, insists that Sadat, who made an historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977 and addressed the Israeli parliament, didn't come "to achieve partial or separate peace" but to "achieve a comprehensive peace in the region."

If Israel fails to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and Syrians, the Jerusalem Post quoted Bassiouny as saying, "it would be against our strategy."

"Our strategy is for a comprehensive peace in the area. If that is not achieved, then it means that our strategy since Sadat came was in error."

Bassiouny said relations between the countries are "not more or less than normal." He was certain the relationship would improve once Israel signed agreements with the Palestinians and Syrians.

War talk

However, a former Egyptian defense minister, once tapped to succeed Mubarak and considered for many years to be second-in-command in the Egyptian leadership, said in a recent interview war with Israel was inevitable.

"Peace with Israel is impossible," Field Marshal Abd Al-Halim Abu Ghazaleh told the Egyptian weekly Al-Arabi. The report was translated and disseminated by the Washington-based independent media monitoring organization Middle East Media Research Institute.

Although Cairo's strategy was for regional peace, Abu Ghazaleh charged peace would be impossible as long as Israel sought to draw its map of the Middle East according to Biblical demarcations, which would include extending its boundaries into Jordan and Lebanon.

Israel finds "shelter," he said, in its "arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and in the unconcealed American protection it receives."

Despite this, Abu Ghazaleh said, Israel has three weaknesses which make it vulnerable, including: a "sensitivity to casualties" and "limited manpower whose morale can be broken [by inflicting] even a few casualties; strategic targets in Israel are located in limited and specific areas, which make them "obtainable"; and although Israel's border is long, its strategic depth is limited, making guerrilla operations particularly important.

Israel's anti-missile systems, Abu Ghazeleh added, would be ineffective against a "missile attack coming from several directions," indicating a united Arab effort against Israel.

If Prime Minister Ehud Barak were to hand over 95 percent of the disputed West Bank to the Palestinian Authority in a new Camp David Accord, as is predicted, Israel's strategic depth will be just nine to 11 miles wide in its most heavily populated area.