As US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Egypt last week, the country was hit by a massive swarm of locusts —an eerie echo of the eighth of the Ten Plagues just weeks before Pesach.
Leaving aside the uncanny biblical parallel, this was yet more catastrophic news for Egypt’s decimated economy. Israel was, predictably, better prepared to deal with the insect invasion, and planes sprayed the swarm as it moved into the country on Wednesday.
Still, the Jewish state is threatened by a more dangerous political pestilence, highlighted by Mr Kerry’s Middle East trip. He pledged more aid to “our long-time partners and friends in Egypt” — a regime in power for less than a year — to further cement relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. He did not visit Jerusalem, but chatted to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Israel was left scrambling at the annual Aipac summit to fight a feared reduction in US aid, part of Washington’s defence sequestration cuts. More striking, indeed, than the biblical locust parallel was how the proposed $500 million cuts in aid to Israel came just as Mr Kerry pledged $250 million in immediate assistance to Egypt’s Islamist theocracy.
But does all this represent a dramatic realignment on Washington’s part vis-à-vis Israel?
Hardly. Rather, it is pure, if utterly misguided, pragmatism. China last year replaced the US as Egypt’s top foreign investor, and the Gulf monarchies are providing the country with billions of dollars in soft loans. By sucking up to Mr Abbas in the splendorous Saudi royal court, the reasoning in the US State Department is that, since the Muslim Brotherhood are coming to power and are subservient to the House of Saud, it is wise to keep both countries on side. Neither, after all, represent an immediate military threat to Israel. And by having aligned itself so closely with the US, Israel has no trump card.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is, at heart, a fascist organisation, stringing the US along until — as its spokesmen recently declared — Egypt is sufficiently Islamised to rally the masses to confront Israel. And the House of Saud’s rusty grip on its own largely impoverished population, and by extension its region-wide Islamist proxies, cannot be taken for granted.
So the problem, as ever, is that by focusing on short-term stability, Washington is sowing the seeds of a long-term nightmare — with potentially catastrophic consequences for Israel.
For Washington’s foreign policy wonks, the well-being of local populations never enters the debate. However, perhaps most the significant development last week was that leading Egyptian opposition figures, Mohamed El Baradei and Amr Musa, as well as those from the hodgepodge of other liberal groups opposed to Egypt’s transformation into an Islamist theocracy, refused to meet Mr Kerry.
They understand, better than anyone, the foolishness of Washington’s policy of backing radical Islamist groups, while throwing them to the wolves. Their demise represents the last, gasping breath of pluralism in the Middle East.
Mr Kerry should have focused on condemning the Islamists, who aim to deprive their opponents of political oxygen and ultimately seek the destruction of the Jewish state.