With the end of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel, official sources let it be known that on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a two-hour strategy meeting with the senior ministers in the “security cabinet.”
The most urgent topic was Egypt — including the multifaceted fallout that could affect Israel from the upsurge in violence in Egypt.
The two countries have had a peace treaty since 1979. Since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Sinai Peninsula (occupied by Israel, as a buffer zone, from mid-1967 until that peace treaty) has become a free-range roaming ground for terrorists.
The Sinai is thus a security headache for Israel. Insurgents in the Biblically significant desert have fired rockets at the Israeli southern port, Eilat — a threat to the important tourism industry there.
Netanyahu and his senior ministers had plenty more to keep tabs on in their neighborhood. There is, of course, the continued civil war in Syria, with indications that Islamic radicals of the Al-Qaeda type may be dominating the anti-Assad rebel movement.
For various reasons — not least the sheer “good public relations” image — Israel has permitted the news media to report that Syrian civilians who are wounded in the fighting have been transferred across the border to Israeli hospitals for treatment. Jewish and Arab medical professionals in Israel are proud to be helping innocent victims of the civil war, notably quite a few children.
It’s important to Israel that Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shi’ite militants who are financed by Iran — have been fighting in Syria, apparently with some measure of success, to help their friend and patron, President Bashar al-Assad.
It’s noteworthy, too, that someone has been hitting back at Hezbollah. A massive car-bomb explosion in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Beirut killed around 20 people and wounded many more. Hezbollah is blaming Sunni Muslim militiamen (who apparently want to weaken Hezbollah’s quest for wider influence), claiming the attackers were directed by Israel. There is no indication of an Israeli role.
Another worry for Israel is the precarious state of affairs in Jordan. Having agreed to provide shelter to thousands of refugees from the Syrian civil war — and how could Jordan say “no” to fellow Arabs? — King Abdullah may find himself with a dangerous combination: a lot of hungry mouths to feed, and a growing number of Islamic radicals who could be foot soldiers in an effort to topple him. (Jordan and Israel have had a peace treaty since 1994.)
Israeli officials also have to consider whether the volatile nature of events in many surrounding countries make it more urgent — or less advisable — to push quickly for a breakthrough toward peace with the Palestinians. Israel, this past week, released a few dozen Palestinian fighters who had killed Israelis; and that “gesture” for the sake of the peace talks that have now resumed is deeply resented by some Israelis who wonder if it’s worth it.
Above all this is the vital issue — for Netanyahu — of his country’s relations with its superpower ally, the United States. Netanyahu and Barack Obama do not see eye to eye on many issues, and Egypt may have added one more. (See Yossi Melman’s article, below.)