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Behind the Headlines a Year After Sadat’s Assassination

A well known Israeli journalist who recently visited Egypt, returned name shocked. The man, who in the past used to come back from Cairo with interviews and background reports from both the political and social Egyptian elite, this time returned empty-handed. As if by order, all the doors were shut. Israelis, he discovered, are no longer welcome in Cairo.

Just one year ago, things were quite different. True, the autonomy negotiations were deadlocked. But President Anwar Sadat, with his declared optimism, was still a strong believer in peace with Israel. He had just overcome a new wave of internal unrest, and although domestic social and economic difficulties continued to trouble him, he appeared to be in control of the situation.

He attended the military parade, commemorating the “victory” of the October 1973 war against Israel, certain that things would turn out for the better once Israel completed its withdrawal from Sinai in the year ahead. It was exactly one year ago today that Sadat was fatally shot at the parade.

DETERIORATION IN RELATIONS

Relations between Israel and Egypt after Sadat’s death began to deteriorate and have never been the same. They suffered their worst blow after the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps in west Beirut. Ambassador Saad Mortada of Egypt was called home for “consultations.” He is unlikely to return.

Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, has always been an enigma to the Israelis. When he served as Sadat’s deputy, he shied away from the Israelis. He visited Israel only once and has not come here since assuming the office of President.

Mubarak this week vowed to continue Sadat’s peace policy but coupled it with a warring that Israel faces “grave consequences” if it continues its policies in Lebanon and referred to what he called Israel’s illusion of military might that he said was shattered by Egypt in 1973.

However, although relations between Egypt and Israel have cooled considerably, Mubarak was nevertheless careful not to break ties completely despite the blow he must have suffered when Israel launched its “Peace for Galilee” campaign. It is generally agreed by political analysts that with a possible settlement in Lebanon, Mubarak will probably send a new Ambassador to Israel. But relations are expected to remain in “deep freeze.” The often talked about normalization process between the two countries is no longer in process.

NORMALIZATION PROCESS AT A HALT

Although a number of Egyptian tourists and several cultural groups such as an orchestra and two dance troupes have visited Israel, the general scene is gloomy. Israel opened a consulate in Alexandria and Egypt opened one in Eilat. But Israelis find it hard to visit the previously popular beaches of Sinai, and fewer Israelis visit Egypt nowadays, although Israel had become Egypt’s fourth largest source of tourism.

The small Israeli diplomatic community in Cairo, as well as Israeli businessmen and academics, find it increasingly difficult to maintain contacts with the local population. The Egyptian message is clear: Egypt insisted from the start, from the time Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977 and addressed the Knesset, that it would not agree to a separate peace agreement with Israel.

The intensive settlement efforts on the West Bank since the signing of the Camp David agreements has been interpreted by the Egyptians as directly contradicting the autonomy process as outlined in those accords. The war in Lebanon placed the Egyptians in an intolerable position, at a time when they were trying to improve relations with the Arab world.

Mubarak apparently resorted to a freeze in relations with Israel as the only alternative to severing relations entirely. He refrained from the latter course despite intensive domestic pressures. The apposition has recently called on the government to give top priority to military preparedness on the eastern front with Israel.

Mubarak has enthusiastically endorsed President’s Reagan’s Middle East peace initiative as a possible way out of the deadlock. Meanwhile, the Egyptian media is sharply attacking Israel’s leaders. And while Cairo seems willing to wait for a new leadership to emerge in Israel, even if it takes a long time, Mubarak is on record as having warned Israel to mend its ways or face “grave consequences.”

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