The rocket strikes that a militant Islamist group recently fired from the Egyptian Sinai into the Israeli city of Eilat served as yet another reminder of how delicate bilateral relations remain two years after Egypt’s revolution. Terrorist activity could easily cause a crisis on the border, with the potential to trigger an unwanted confrontation that would threaten the peace treaty that normalized bilateral relations in 1979. To avoid such an outcome, Israel and Egypt must take convincing action now to uphold the treaty.
Last November, when hostilities erupted in Gaza, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi mediated a swift resolution, even providing a guarantee for the cease-fire with Gaza’s ruling Hamas. Morsi thus implicitly recommitted Egypt to upholding peace on the border and to playing a constructive role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This boosted confidence in Israel that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s ruling party, would uphold the 1979 peace treaty. But Morsi has not explicitly endorsed peace with Israel and has avoided direct engagement with Israeli leaders.
Preserving peace is in both countries’ interests. The attack on an Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai last summer, in which armed militants killed 16 soldiers, demonstrated that terrorism threatens Egypt just as it does Israel.
In this volatile environment, reverting to a confrontational relationship with Israel would be extremely dangerous, inviting the risk of another disastrous war. Upholding the peace treaty with Israel would have the opposite effect, enabling Egypt to pursue its goals of consolidating the military’s authority at home and enhancing its influence throughout the Middle East.