Haaretz reports today a story first broken by Channel 10 news, that an Israeli navy patrol boat violated Egyptian territorial waters last week, encroaching nearly half a mile into Egypt. Israeli censorship prevents the naming of the country whose waters were violated. But an Israeli source confirms that it was Egypt. Israel is describing the incident as a “navigational error” on the part of the captain, who was charged, convicted and imprisoned. The IDF is claiming that the captain corrected course when his error was caught by shore radar which directed him back to international waters. The Haaretz report says that Egypt did not detect the violation and did not challenge the vessel.
While this explanation is possible, it’s also possible Israel wished to test Egypt’s surveillance/security systems to see how or if they might respond to an intrusion. Of course, it’s unlikely they would imprison a ship captain for doing such an approved mission. But who knows. Simply the fact that an Israeli navy captain, sailing near the waters of a frontline state with extremely tense relations with Israel would make such a blunder isn’t just troubling, it’s borderline nuts.
Remember what happened a few years ago to the British naval patrol boat captured by Iran, thus causing an international incident of enormous proportions. If you think the Egypt-Israel peace treaty hangs by a thread now, imagine what would happen if this Israeli boat had been captured. Instead of one Gilad Shalit, imagine 30 of them in Egyptian custody. Of course the Egyptian military would want to spirit them back to Israel as fast as possible. But would the Egyptian popular movement permit it?
The main point of this episode is how easy it would be to light up this tinderbox and cause a war. And a good part of the reason why conditions are so bone dry is Bibi Netanyahu’s truculent “leadership.” He reminds me a bit of the hubris exhibited by the British forces storming the beaches at Gallipoli during WWI, only to be mown down in their thousands by superior Turkish power. Bibi tells the nation to join with him and charge into the maw of certain defeat. The peoples of Egypt and Turkey are arrayed against him and behind them the combined nations of the General Assembly. No matter. All Israel has to do is stay the course and all will end well. Where did we hear that one before?
It’s worth noting also that two days before this incident, an Egyptian naval patrol detected an Israeli yacht in Egyptian waters. When the private security guards and crew aboard, some of whom were Israeli and others foreigners, feared they would be boarded, they dumped their weapons overboard. The Egyptian navy took them in for questioning. After intercession from the Israeli foreign ministry, the security guards were released. Though it’s possible these were more than private security guards protecting an Israeli client’s yacht from pirates, which is how the Israeli media has explained it, it’s possible the story is more or less as reported.