Israel and Egypt – two U.S. regional allies – signed a U.S.-sponsored peace treaty in 1979 – Israel’s first with an Arab nation.
The Egyptian navy reportedly carried out the largest exercise in its history last week. Dubbed Victory 41, the military maneuvers marked the Egyptian sinking of the Israeli Naval vessel Eilat 41 years ago, in which 47 Israeli sailors were killed and 91 wounded.
According to the daily Ha’aretz, Oct. 20 was set aside as a holiday marking the sinking of the Israeli vessel for the Egyptian naval forces.
The paper also quoted the Egyptian Navy commander in chief Vice Admiral Mohad Mamish in an interview with the Arabic newspaper Al Ahram, saying that the Egyptian Naval vessels were outfitted with advanced missiles and the Navy had supply contracts with Germany, Russia and the U.S.
“Unfortunately now for more than 10 years most of the big [Egyptian] exercises are simulating war against Israel,” said Dr. Yuval Steinitz, member of the Israeli Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
The first time was in 1996 when they imitated a war against “a little country that is bordering Egypt on the northeast,” Steinitz told CNSNews.com on Wednesday.
Looking on the map, it’s clear who they were simulating the war against, he said.
The only new thing this time is that it has been leaked to the press, said Steinitz.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to apologize for comments made by a right-wing Knesset member, who noted that Mubarak has never come on a state visit to Israel. Olmert told Mubarak that Israel considered him to be “a strategic partner and a close friend.”
But there are signs of other strains in relations.
The Hebrew daily Maariv reported on Tuesday that on a recent trip to Egypt, the director of the military/political and policy bureau of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, told Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi that Israel was concerned about Egypt carrying out of Egyptian army exercises "that are directed against an Israeli threat and that relate to it [Israel] as an enemy.”
(A translation was provided by the Independent Media Review and Analysis.)
Israel also is concerned that it has become the central focus for Egyptian officers in building their forces and by the lack of “any relations of any kind” between the Israeli and Egyptian armies, Gilad was quoted as saying.
According to the paper, Tantawi said relations between the armies could improve in the future in tandem with progress in regional peace. He also said that security challenges obligate Egypt to build an effective deterrent force.
Steinitz said the military exercises, combined with massive Egyptian force building plus indoctrination of the military against Israel, was “something to be concerned about.”
He also said that despite the peace agreement between the two countries, Egypt is anti-Israel in most international bodies and is also educating the public “for hatred and not for peace.”
Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that its analysts had found the Egyptian press to be “a leading propagator of anti-Semitic images” for many years and that that trend was now spreading to other newspapers in the region.
Egypt is considered one of America’s allies in the region and has been a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is currently mediating reconciliation talks between the military Hamas group and the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Egypt has received an average of more than $2 billion annually in economic and military foreign assistance from the U.S. – the second largest foreign aid package after Israel. The administration has requested $1.3 billion in military aid for 2009 – the same amount it received in 2008.
“U.S. policy toward Egypt is aimed at maintaining regional stability, improving
bilateral relations, continuing military cooperation, and sustaining the March 1979
Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty,” according to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress in August 2008.
Egypt has long been viewed by U.S. administrations as a “moderating influence” in the Middle East. Many congressmen see Egypt as a “stabilizing force” in the region, but others would like to see the U.S. pressure Egypt to, among other things, “take a more active role in reducing Arab-Israeli tensions,” the report said.
The U.S. Embassy here had no comment on the military exercises.
But the Zionist Organization of America criticized the Egyptian “celebration” of its past attacks on Israel and urged the U.S. to reconsider its massive aid to Egypt contingent on Egypt adopting “truly peaceful actions and policies toward Israel.”
“Egypt has shown in a variety of ways that it remains a country deeply hostile to Israel and may indeed be a leading influence in Arab world hostility to Israel,” ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said in a statement.
“In an era of peace that was meant to be ushered in by the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, Egypt should not be celebrating past military assaults on Israel which were fought in pursuit of a policy to eliminate Israel,” Klein said.
“This is not a matter of a country simply honoring its war dead. It is matter of maintaining the hostility to Israel’s existence,” he said.
The ZOA noted that the Egyptian celebrations were in the wider context of Egyptian political, cultural and media hostility toward Israel.
Earlier this year, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said he would “burn Israeli books himself if found in Egyptian libraries.” In 2006, a poll found that 92 percent of Egyptians regarded Israel as an enemy nation, and 50 percent regarded the U.S. as an enemy, the ZOA reported.