Fracturing Relations in the Middle East

September 14, 2011 by  
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Two important events have taken place regarding Israel in the past week with implications for regional peace and security in the Middle East and North Africa…writes Julie Bishop.

Last Friday Egyptian protestors surrounded the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and ransacked the building.

Julie Bishop

Embassy staff were reportedly rescued by Egyptian commandos, although there is considerable disquiet about the fact that the demonstrations were allowed to get out of control.

There had been increasing levels of protest near the embassy in recent weeks after Israeli security forces killed five Egyptian soldiers in the wake of a terrorist attack on Israel on 18 August near the city of Eilat in which eight Israelis were killed.

The terrorists are suspected to have crossed the border into Israel from Egypt.

Egyptian security forces were killed during the subsequent response from Israel, although the circumstances of their deaths is disputed and under investigation.

These events have added considerable tension between the two countries who have been close strategic partners for the past 30 years.

After the removal of President Mubarak, Egypt is under the rule of a provisional military regime, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which claims to remain largely supportive of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

However there is growing concern that public support for this treaty is evaporating and that pressure is building on SCAF to be openly hostile towards Israel.

Reports that Egyptian soldiers allowed the Cairo protests to become increasingly violent, will do little to ease concerns within Israel about the long term implications of a fractured relationship with Egypt.

While there are no expectations of imminent military conflagration, the modernisation of Egypt’s military with support from the United States, increases the risks should conflict break out.

US military aid to Egypt, which expanded significantly as a result of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979, totals over $1.3 billion annually.

The other disturbing development was the announcement on 9 September by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that Turkish naval ships will escort any new flotilla of aid vessels aimed at breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

While the threat of using naval vessels is a highly provocative declaration by a NATO member against Israel, relations between the two countries have been on a slow downward trend for some time.

Turkey had generally been a constructive partner with Israel and was the first Muslim country  to provide official recognition  of Israel in March 1949.

It took a turn for the worse when Israeli forces boarded a Turkish aid flotilla in May 2010.

The Israelis came under attack and nine people were killed.

A United Nations investigation into the incident concluded in the Palmer Report that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was legal, however Turkey reacted by severing all defence ties with Israel and expelling several senior Israeli diplomats.

Turkey has made repeated calls for an apology from Israel and while Israel has expressed regret, it is refusing to apologise for what has been found to be an exercise of its legal rights in self defence.

There is a view that Prime Minister Erdogan is seeking to exploit anti-Israel sentiment in the region to build Turkish influence.

This view has been reinforced by the tour currently being undertaken by the Turkish Prime Minister which has included appearances and speeches at rallies in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

At one point Erdogan was rumoured to have been planning a provocative visit to the Gaza Strip, but reportedly shelved those plans most likely in response to international concerns about its impact on regional stability.

The simultaneous breakdown in relations between Israel and the two Muslim nations which had constituted a strategic security and diplomatic bulwark for the Jewish state, represents a significant upheaval in the region.

Australia must stand firmly with Israel at this tumultuous point in its history.

Any wavering of support by its allies and friends will embolden its detractors and that could have grave implications for the rest of the world.

Julie Bishop is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

Comments

2 Responses to “Fracturing Relations in the Middle East”
  1. Rita says:

    If I had to be in a war, I would like Julie Bishop on my side.

    Julie Bishop: you are elegant, gracious, strong, ethical, courageous. If only there were more of your kind in politics, Australia would be a better place.

    Bravo! and thank you!

  2. Enoch says:

    Well said Julia!!

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