The Sinai Incident: A Silver Lining

08/06/2012 09:32 am ET | Updated Oct 06, 2012

The latest terror outrage in Sinai, leading to over 20 casualties, mostly Egyptian soldiers killed in cold blood by their Muslim "brothers" during the Iftar (the meal breaking the Ramadan fast), as well as 6 of the killers themselves eliminated by the Israeli Army, is not yet another incident to be cataloged and then forgotten.

This incident may prove to be a game changer, an important event in the history of Israeli-Egyptian relations, as well as in the development of Egyptian-Hamas connections and the delicate balance between Army and civilian government in Egypt itself.

The attackers' intention was very obvious, to surprise Egyptian soldiers and not necessarily to kill them, a fate which they preserved for innocent Israeli civilians, ironically the residents of a well-known left-wing kibbutz, called Kerem Shalom (the Vineyard of Peace in Hebrew). The hope was that the fallout from a successful murderous attack on Israeli civilians will inevitably lead to an unbridgeable rift between Israel and the newly-established Muslim Brotherhood administration led by President Muhammad Morsi.

That has all gone wrong. Fifteen Egyptian soldiers were killed in blatant violation of the spirit of the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Egyptian military authorities in Sinai reacted exactly according to the spirit and letter of the peace treaty with Israel and alerted the Israelis who were ready for the jihadist terrorists and finished them off before they could murder Israeli citizens. The Egyptian high command is furious with the terrorists, and vows revenge, and also President Morsi promised a severe punishment.

Egyptian commentators, close to the military establishment, particularly General (Ret.) Adil Suleiman said in public, that the Egyptian authorities were wrong when they did not heed Israeli warnings about the threat of terrorism in Sinai. These are statements almost unheard of in Egypt. Add up to that public admission by the Egyptian government that the tourist industry in Egypt is devastated as a result of the attack, and we can see the basic parameters of a new Israeli-Egyptian status quo of enhanced military cooperation in the Sinai, all because of the obvious joint interest of maintaining and solidifying the situation near the border, and this is just the complete opposite of what the terrorists and those who sent them wanted to achieve.

This is good news for all those who understand that the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty is crucial for the prevention of complete chaos in the Middle East. The Sinai attack comes in the aftermath of a bizarre diplomatic incident between Egypt and Israel. President Morsi sent an official letter to Israel's President Peres expressing the desire to maintain peace, and the letter was published with much unnecessary fanfare by the Israelis. Then, President Morsi's office denied ever sending the letter in the first place, only to be rebuffed by Egyptian sources who expressed embarrassment about the denial.

Well, if this is the way the new Muslim Brotherhood administration wants to handle the touchy, sensitive relations with Israel, so be it. The Israelis, for their part, should be advised to understand the constraints under which President Morsi is operating and act with care and diplomatic finesse.

The other important outcome of the incident could be a change in the relations between the Morsi Administration and the Hamas government in Gaza. It is clear that the jihadists left Gaza to Sinai, and one wonders how such a large, well-equipped group could do that without the connivance, at least, of the Hamas authorities. The Egyptian high command, for one, believes that this was the case, and statements to that effect were already made. Not good news to Hamas, and again, very good news for the supporters of peace.

The Morsi administration is yet to formally state its position about Hamas' role, but they have very narrow room for maneuverability. In the Egyptian-Hamas equation, the former are the senior partner, and the latter are the junior weaker one. Hamas acted soon after the Morsi victory in the Egyptian elections as if it was their victory. It was not, and the proud Egyptians do not like Haniyyeh and his government forgetting this simple, obvious state of affairs. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza was quick to blame Israeli Mossad for what happened, and surely, some crazies in Egypt, as well as in other countries, may believe it, but even in the Middle East, crazies do not always have their way....

Last, but not least, the delicate balance of power between the military council and the civilian government in Egypt, was called again into question, and the outcome is most likely to be a strong statement by the army that it has the dominant role in Egypt's security and foreign policies. The last thing that the Egyptian army wants is to act under pressure from Islamic terrorists, pressure that will complicate the relations with Israel as well as the U.S.

Terrorism usually leads to bad results, but hopefully not this time. The Sinai incident can be the exception, and a very significant one.