Without Egypt’s Mubarak and with relations with Turkey in shambles, Israel will be forced to court new potential allies.
The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse.
From now on, it will be hard for Israel to trust an Egyptian government torn apart by internal strife. Israel’s increasing isolation in the region, coupled with a weakening United States, will force the government to court new potential allies.
Israel’s foreign policy has depended on regional alliances which have provided the country with strategic depth since the 1950s. The country’s first partner was France, which at the time ruled over northern Africa and provided Israel with advanced weaponry and nuclear capabilities.
After Israel’s war against Egypt in 1956, David Ben-Gurion attempted to establish alliances with non-Arab countries in the region, including Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia. The Shah of Iran became a significant ally of Israel, supplying the country with oil and money from weapons purchases. The countries’ militaries and intelligence agencies worked on joint operations against Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule, which was seen as the main threat against Israel and pro-Western Arab governments.
Israel’s next alliances were forged with Jordan’s King Hussein and Morocco’s King Hassan. These ties were operated in secret, as well as ties with leaders in Lebanon’s Christian community. The late 1970s saw the fall of the Shah of Iran, with an anti-Israel Islamic republic created in his stead.
Around the same time, Egypt and Israel broke their cycle of conflict by signing a peace agreement. Egypt positioned itself on the side of Saudi Arabia, as head of the pro-American camp.
Mubarak inherited the peace agreement after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination. Mubarak was cold in his public relations with Israel, refusing to visit the country except for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, which decelerated normalization between the countries.
Relations between the Israel Defense Forces and the Egyptian army were conducted on a low level, with no joint exercises. Egyptian public opinion was openly hostile towards Israel and anti-Semitic terminology was common. Civil relations between the countries were carried out by a handful of government workers and businessmen.
Despite all of this, the “cold peace” with Egypt was the most important strategic alliance Israel had in the Middle East. The security provided by the alliance gave Israel the chance to concentrate its forces on the northern front and around the settlements. Starting in 1985, peace with Egypt allowed for Israel to cut its defense budget, which greatly benefited the economy.
Mubarak became president while Israel was governed by Menachim Begin, and has worked with eight different Israeli leaders since then. He had close relations with Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu. In the last two years, despite stagnation in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and worsening relations between Netanyahu and the Arab world, Mubarak has hosted the prime minister both in Cairo and in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The friendship between Mubarak and Netanyahu is based on a mutual fear over Iran’s strengthening and the rising power of Islamists, as well as over the weakening and distancing of the U.S. government with Barack Obama at its head.
Now, with Mubarak struggling over the survival of his government, Israel is left with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. These two allies promise to strengthen Israel’s Eastern battlefront and are also working to stop terror attacks and slow down Hamas.
But Israel’s relationship with these two allies is complicated. Joint security exercises are modest and the relationship between the leaders is poor. Jordan’s King Abdullah refuses to meet Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is waging a diplomatic struggle against Israel’s right-wing government. It’s hard to tell how Jordan and the PA could fill the role that Egypt has played for Israel.
In this situation, Israel will be forced to seek out new allies. The natural candidates include Syria, which is striving to exploit Egypt’s weakness to claim a place among the key nations in the region.
The images from Cairo and Tunisia surely send chills down the backs of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his cronies, despite the achievement they achieved with the new Hezbollah-backed Lebanon government. As long as the Arab world is flooded with waves of angry anti-government protests, Assad and Netanyahu will be left to safeguard the old order of the Middle East.
Ref: Al Jazeera
“For 17 years they [Palestinians] negotiated with the Israeli government during settlement construction … ”
– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 1 October 2010
The United States-brokered peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas are in suspended animation.
Abbas is deciding whether to continue to partake in them despite the expiration of a 10-month moratorium on new Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Although his inclination appears not to do so, he also believes the opinion of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Libya this Friday is first worth taking.
It is remarkable that those representing the Palestinian people would waiver in the slightest about quitting the talks in the face of ongoing land seizure. If this is not a red line, what is? It suggests a leadership which has not only failed to stand for the basic rights of its people, but a further reminder of Abbas’ illegitimacy as a spokesperson for those rights.
Two incontrovertible, overlooked facts:
The presence of even a single Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem is illegal. Articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention, reaffirmed by numerous United Nations resolutions and the principles of the U.N. Charter, prohibit an occupying power from transferring its population into forcibly acquired territory.
Second, Abbas’ presidential term ended on Jan. 9, 2009. In the absence of elections, the Palestine Liberation Organization—of which Abbas’ Fatah faction is the largest party—extended his tenure indefinitely (a move not recognized by Hamas, the decisive winner of the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections). His authority as PA president is therefore in question.
But could Israel find a better “partner” with whom to conduct peace talks than Abbas? His protestations against Israel’s December 2008 onslaught of Gaza were noticeably muted. The PA also endorsed a recent vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council postponing action on the Goldstone Report which alleged Israeli war crimes in the conflict.
Maysa Zorob of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq characterized the resolution as “a betrayal of victims’ rights” and the PA’s support of shelving it reflective of “a lack of genuine commitment to justice.”
The price of clinging to power and remaining in the good graces of the U.S. State Department has been forsaking Gaza. The Israeli government seized on this, bolstering Abbas’ stature by pretending they had found a trusted negotiating partner—all while the quiet annexation of land continued.
But it is hard to solely blame Abbas. As Netanyahu stated, Israel has mastered the art of entering empty dialogue with Palestinians as new East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements are built.
Five hundred thousand settlers in 120 West Bank settlements and counting; the expropriation of territory and expulsion of Palestinians is rendering a one-state, two-state or any-state solution moot.
“Everyone knows that measured and restrained building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank and Jerusalem] in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map,” Netanyahu said.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, when no map remains. The “measured” and “restrained” qualifiers used to describe robust, relentless settlement activity are typical of the doublespeak employed by Israeli prime ministers.
As Abbas seeks outside opinion, consults Arab foreign ministers and holds cabinet sessions to decide the wisdom of pulling out of talks, Palestine is being whittled away … as the PA whittles away time.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.
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Israeli online daily, Haaretz, published the “map for a permanent solution with the Palestinians” that was previously proposed by the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.
The “peace plan”, Olmert presented does not include any withdrawal from Jerusalem, annexes all settlements surrounding Jerusalem, and also annexes all settlement blocs to Israel. The plan was never officially presented.
He “offered” the Palestinians areas in the Negev desert and some areas near the Gaza Strip, in addition to a passage between Gaza and the West Bank.
According to the plan, Israel annexes %6.3 of West Bank areas and evacuates isolated settlements located deep in the West Bank.
It keeps the settlement blocs of Maaleh Adumim, Ghush Tzion, Ariel, and all settlements located around the Old city of Jerusalem, and considers East
Jerusalem and its settlements as part of the state of Israel.
The former Prime Minister ‘offered’ the Palestinians 5.8% of “Israel’s lands”, mainly desert areas, in addition to offering a ‘safe passage’ between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The ‘safe passage’ or road linking between Gaza and the West Bank will remain under Israeli control and would always be monitored by the Israeli forces.
He offered transferring 327 kilometers of “Israel’s land’ to the Palestinian Authority; the areas are in the Beit She’an Valley near Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi; the” Judean Hills” near Nataf and Mevo Betar; and in the area of Lachish and of the Yatir Forest.
This means that even when the Palestinians ‘achieve independence’ they will still be subject to search and inspection by the army although they are supposedly moving between different territories of the ‘Palestinian state’.
As for the refugees issue, the plan rejects the internationally guaranteed Right of Return, and only offers allowing a limited number of refugees into the Palestinian territories, and not to their cities and towns wiped out in 1948 by the creation of the state of Israel.
Haaretz said that Olmert and the former United States administration, under George Bush, reached an understanding for the development of the Negev and the Galilee in order to house the settlers who would be evacuated from some West Bank settlements. Some of the settlers would be moved to West bank settlement blocs.
On September 16, 2008, Olmert “offered” Abbas a plan based on talks that followed the Annapolis Summit of 2007. But Olmert told Abbas that handing him the new map is conditioned by signing a ‘comprehensive’ peace deal so that the Palestinians would not use the plan as a starting point for talks on further evacuations.
President Abbas rejected the offer of Olmert and the office of Olmert never even handed him the map of the new plan.
Israel does not view the final status peace deal as an issue that would bring independence and sovereignty to the Palestinian people.
The internationally guaranteed Right of Return and all United Nations and Security Council resolutions calling for the full Israeli withdrawal for all Arab and Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, were fully rejected by Israel.
Read more about the israhell “peace plan”
Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan”
Olmert mentions a $10 billion price tag to his “convergence” plan, and implies that Washington will fund it. If the U.S. complies, writes Leggett, it “will likely be seen throughout the Middle East as assisting Israel’s bid to take permanent control of large settlement blocs and Jerusalem. The fear is that this would add to regional anger toward the U.S., complicating efforts to stabilize Iraq and promote democracy in other countries.”
Olmert’s convergence plan is intended to establish final borders, already visible in the form of the Wall. In their report “Under the Guise of Security,”  Israeli human-rights organizations, BIMKOM and B’Tselem, detail how the Wall has been erected to create prime real estate and hasten expansion of the settlements (which are illegal under international law). Olmert’s agenda highlights what peace activists have long been saying: the Wall is a long-term political border, rather than the “temporary security installation” claimed by Israeli military planners, when testifying at Supreme Court hearings.
…All this represents basic strategy: Israel intends to withdrawal unilaterally from minor areas in order to keep geopolitically strategic ones, especially Jerusalem and other blocs. The intention has always been to undermine Palestinian viability while controlling demographics. Jeff Halper’s “matrix of control” is another name for this strategy.  It is no coincidence that the Wall has grabbed the best farmland and most of the water (“Security or Greed?” asks Avraham Tal in Haaretz, April 20), and has destroyed all economic interfaces and market towns (Nazlat Issa, Qalqilya, Mas’ha, A-Ram, Abu Dis and Al-Azariya), while Israel has marginalised the Palestinian transport system.
The political die has been cast, and Israel is officially entering the world community as an Apartheid state, with unilaterally-determined, colonialist borders set in concrete, delineating a non-viable, truncated Bantustan version of Palestine, which will be trapped and stifled in the bear hug of Big Brother Israel. All of which is being accomplished with American and European complicity, contrary to international law and human rights.
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The military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves.
This is a war of conquest. Discovered in 2000, there are extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline.
British Gas (BG Group) and its partner, the Athens based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) owned by Lebanon’s Sabbagh and Koury families, were granted oil and gas exploration rights in a 25 year agreement signed in November 1999 with the Palestinian Authority.
The rights to the offshore gas field are respectively British Gas (60 percent); Consolidated Contractors (CCC) (30 percent); and the Investment Fund of the Palestinian Authority (10 percent). (Haaretz, October 21, 2007).
The PA-BG-CCC agreement includes field development and the construction of a gas pipeline.(Middle East Economic Digest, Jan 5, 2001).
The BG licence covers the entire Gazan offshore marine area, which is contiguous to several Israeli offshore gas facilities. (See Map below). It should be noted that 60 percent of the gas reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to Palestine.
The BG Group drilled two wells in 2000: Gaza Marine-1 and Gaza Marine-2. Reserves are estimated by British Gas to be of the order of 1.4 trillion cubic feet, valued at approximately 4 billion dollars. These are the figures made public by British Gas. The size of Palestine’s gas reserves could be much larger.
Who Owns the Gas Fields
The issue of sovereignty over Gaza’s gas fields is crucial. From a legal standpoint, the gas reserves belong to Palestine.
The death of Yasser Arafat, the election of the Hamas government and the ruin of the Palestinian Authority have enabled Israel to establish de facto control over Gaza’s offshore gas reserves.
British Gas (BG Group) has been dealing with the Tel Aviv government. In turn, the Hamas government has been bypassed in regards to exploration and development rights over the gas fields.
The election of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 was a major turning point. Palestine’s sovereignty over the offshore gas fields was challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court. Sharon stated unequivocally that “Israel would never buy gas from Palestine” intimating that Gaza’s offshore gas reserves belong to Israel.
In 2003, Ariel Sharon, vetoed an initial deal, which would allow British Gas to supply Israel with natural gas from Gaza’s offshore wells. (The Independent, August 19, 2003)
The election victory of Hamas in 2006 was conducive to the demise of the Palestinian Authority, which became confined to the West Bank, under the proxy regime of Mahmoud Abbas.
In 2006, British Gas “was close to signing a deal to pump the gas to Egypt.” (Times, May, 23, 2007). According to reports, British Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened on behalf of Israel with a view to shunting the agreement with Egypt.
The following year, in May 2007, the Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority.” The proposed contract was for $4 billion, with profits of the order of $2 billion of which one billion was to go the Palestinians.
Tel Aviv, however, had no intention on sharing the revenues with Palestine. An Israeli team of negotiators was set up by the Israeli Cabinet to thrash out a deal with the BG Group, bypassing both the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority:
“Israeli defence authorities want the Palestinians to be paid in goods and services and insist that no money go to the Hamas-controlled Government.” (Ibid, emphasis added)
The objective was essentially to nullify the contract signed in 1999 between the BG Group and the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.
Under the proposed 2007 agreement with BG, Palestinian gas from Gaza’s offshore wells was to be channeled by an undersea pipeline to the Israeli seaport of Ashkelon, thereby transferring control over the sale of the natural gas to Israel.
The deal fell through. The negotiations were suspended:
“Mossad Chief Meir Dagan opposed the transaction on security grounds, that the proceeds would fund terror”. (Member of Knesset Gilad Erdan, Address to the Knesset on “The Intention of Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Purchase Gas from the Palestinians When Payment Will Serve Hamas,” March 1, 2006, quoted in Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, Does the Prospective Purchase of British Gas from Gaza’s Coastal Waters Threaten Israel’s National Security? Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 2007)
Israel’s intent was to foreclose the possibility that royalties be paid to the Palestinians. In December 2007, The BG Group withdrew from the negotiations with Israel and in January 2008 they closed their office in Israel.(BG website).
Invasion Plan on The Drawing Board
The invasion plan of the Gaza Strip under “Operation Cast Lead” was set in motion in June 2008, according to Israeli military sources:
“Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago [June or before June] , even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.”(Barak Ravid, Operation “Cast Lead”: Israeli Air Force strike followed months of planning, Haaretz, December 27, 2008)
That very same month, the Israeli authorities contacted British Gas, with a view to resuming crucial negotiations pertaining to the purchase of Gaza’s natural gas:
“Both Ministry of Finance director general Yarom Ariav and Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Hezi Kugler agreed to inform BG of Israel’s wish to renew the talks.
The sources added that BG has not yet officially responded to Israel’s request, but that company executives would probably come to Israel in a few weeks to hold talks with government officials.” (Globes online- Israel’s Business Arena, June 23, 2008)
The decision to speed up negotiations with British Gas (BG Group) coincided, chronologically, with the planning of the invasion of Gaza initiated in June. It would appear that Israel was anxious to reach an agreement with the BG Group prior to the invasion, which was already in an advanced planning stage.
Moreover, these negotiations with British Gas were conducted by the Ehud Olmert government with the knowledge that a military invasion was on the drawing board. In all likelihood, a new “post war” political-territorial arrangement for the Gaza strip was also being contemplated by the Israeli government.
In fact, negotiations between British Gas and Israeli officials were ongoing in October 2008, 2-3 months prior to the commencement of the bombings on December 27th.
In November 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of National Infrastructures instructed Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to enter into negotiations with British Gas, on the purchase of natural gas from the BG’s offshore concession in Gaza. (Globes, November 13, 2008)
“Ministry of Finance director general Yarom Ariav and Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Hezi Kugler wrote to IEC CEO Amos Lasker recently, informing him of the government’s decision to allow negotiations to go forward, in line with the framework proposal it approved earlier this year.
The IEC board, headed by chairman Moti Friedman, approved the principles of the framework proposal a few weeks ago. The talks with BG Group will begin once the board approves the exemption from a tender.” (Globes Nov. 13, 2008)
Gaza and Energy Geopolitics
The military occupation of Gaza is intent upon transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel in violation of international law.
What can we expect in the wake of the invasion?
What is the intent of Israel with regard to Palestine’s Natural Gas reserves?
A new territorial arrangement, with the stationing of Israeli and/or “peacekeeping” troops?
The militarization of the entire Gaza coastline, which is strategic for Israel?
The outright confiscation of Palestinian gas fields and the unilateral declaration of Israeli sovereignty over Gaza’s maritime areas?
If this were to occur, the Gaza gas fields would be integrated into Israel’s offshore installations, which are contiguous to those of the Gaza Strip. (See Map 1 above).
These various offshore installations are also linked up to Israel’s energy transport corridor, extending from the port of Eilat, which is an oil pipeline terminal, on the Red Sea to the seaport – pipeline terminal at Ashkelon, and northwards to Haifa, and eventually linking up through a proposed Israeli-Turkish pipeline with the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Ceyhan is the terminal of the Baku, Tblisi Ceyhan Trans Caspian pipeline. “What is envisaged is to link the BTC pipeline to the Trans-Israel Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, also known as Israel’s Tipline.” (See Michel Chossudovsky, The War on Lebanon and the Battle for Oil, Global Research, July 23, 2006)
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“Only hours before the attack, the Egyptians told our representatives that they were under the impression that Israel would not launch an operation,” the Hamas official said. “We believe the Egyptians deliberately deceived us because they had given Israel a green light to attack.”
Another Hamas official told the Post that Abbas and his top aides had long been urging Israel to bring down the Hamas government so that they could return to the Gaza Strip.
“The Egyptians even made it clear to us that they had convinced Israel not to attack the Gaza Strip,” he said. “Abbas also wanted to reassure Hamas by talking about his intention to renew the reconciliation talks with us.”
Mussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official based in Damascus, claimed that some Arab parties had pushed Israel to launch the attack. “We are astonished by reports according to which some parties have been urging Israel to wipe out Hamas,” he said. “We are also shocked to hear officials in Ramallah and Cairo blame Hamas for the Israel aggression.”
Abu Marzouk claimed that the IDF operation was designed to force the Palestinians to succumb and make political concessions. “The Israeli enemy won’t succeed in achieving its goal,” he said. “In the past, they launched a military operation in the northern Gaza Strip and imposed blockades which didn’t work.”