Just as Israel was living out the fantasy of being a “normal” democracy, the events of last week kindly reminded us that we are anything but. The voices of home-grown protesters in our own little game of revolution—played against Israel’s houses and cottage (cheese) oligarchs—were all but drowned out with the voices of Egyptian protesters playing a much more dangerous game.
Israel’s fleeting contentment has once again been sabotaged by regional resentment.
There we were at the beginning of last week, basking in the contentment of summer’s discontent—“tent “being the operative syllable in both of those words—and blissfully ignoring the Arab Fall lurking ominously on September’s horizon. Then the weekend beckoned and with it our region’s favorite pastime, the blame game.
The key players in the latest round of this ancient game? Egypt versus Israel.
And the aim of the game? Well that too is nothing new. Once again, the goal has been unilaterally decided upon by the other team: Namely, that Israel must apologize.
The game is played as follows: The opponent takes action against Israel which either violates state security or international law; Israel retaliates in what invariably ends up being a “regrettable incident”—usually involving the loss of life on the opponent’s team; this is closely followed by the opponent threatening to sever diplomatic ties unless Israel apologizes. At this stage the game is usually suspended in an indefinite stalemate, with both sides incapable of accepting the prospect of being the loser.
The last round of the blame game had a different opponent but was played according to the same set of skewed rules. In that round, Israel’s opponent was Turkey. The Turkish government makes the first move by supporting the IHH-backed flotilla—the IHH being a terrorist organization—and its illegal breach of the Gaza blockade. Israel defends itself by boarding the Mavi Marmara and killing nine activists. Turkey gets mad at Israel for breaking the rules (only the side that makes the rules is allowed to break them you see) and demands that Israel apologizes.
Last week the latest round of the game unfolded in Sinai – the stretch of land that best symbolizes Israel’s land-for-peace sentiments. Yet recently, the “peninsula for peace”—as President Shimon Peres fondly referred to it this week—has turned into a playground for terrorists. As demonstrated by an increasing number of attacks in the area by Islamic fundamentalists, the central government in Egypt is—in Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s words—“losing its grip” over the Sinai peninsula.
With Israel’s permission, Egypt deployed armed forces into Sinai earlier in the week. But Thursday’s attack on the road to Eilat killing 8 Israelis tragically proved their efforts to be ineffective. Taking matters into their own hands, the IDF opened fire on the terrorists and in the process killed members of Egypt’s security forces.
Cue the calls for an apology. Not—Allah forbid—for Egypt to apologize for allowing terrorists to traverse its borders and plan a deadly attack against Israel, but, in a case of the lady doth protest too much, Israel is being asked to apologize to Egypt for a military blunder that was the direct result of its own inefficiency.
Which, incidentally, Barak did in Saturday’s statement of regret.
But judging by the numbers of protesters burning Israeli flags in Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez, it wouldn’t have made a difference if Israel would have accepted the blame for all Egyptian woes – including, say, the fact that Egypt is listed as the fifth worst country in the world for religious freedom, or the fact that over 1.5 million Egyptian children are child laborers.
No, it wouldn’t have made a difference because in actual fact, the aim of the game has nothing to do with apologies at all. Just like our ongoing game with Turkey, Egypt isn’t really interested in getting an apology from Israel.
The aim of the blame game is simply to continue playing it for as long as possible…