Will the US punish Egypt for submitting UN Jerusalem resolution?

After Trump threatened allies who support the UN resolution condemning US  recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israeli diplomats urged Washington not to withhold aid from Egypt for submitting the resolution.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

The UN General Assembly votes this evening on a resolution condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but the issue is not in doubt. Despite threats from President Trump to cut aid to nations who vote in favor, the motion will pass by an overwhelming majority. But what of Egypt, which authored the resolution? Egypt is largely dependent on the United States and is a major beneficiary of US aid. Egypt is also a strategic ally to Israel in fighting ISIS terror in Sinai and Hamas terror in Gaza.

By issuing the warning, President Trump asserted what he expects from allies in exchange for the aid money and highlights the importance of this particular issue for the White House even at the expense of national security commitments normally seen as untouchable. Trump told his cabinet, “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Between 1948 and 2016 the United States has given Egypt $77.4 billion in bilateral foreign aid, including $1.3 billion a year in military aid from 1987 to the present. Slashing funds to Egypt could seriously impact both US and Israeli national security interests that are secured by aid money.

Washington made clear in 2015 how important it considers aid to Egypt by reinstating funds that had been frozen two years earlier in response to the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by current leader Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. Funding slashes during Morsi’s brief leadership led to concerns that Egypt could cancel its peace accord with Israel, destabilizing the Middle East even further.
The assistance to Egypt is considered as both humanitarian aid and a strategic investment, that helps keep the country in Washington’s sphere of influence. If the aid is halted, the vacuum could be filled by Russia or other countries.

Egypt’s anti-Israel record at the UN

Over the years, Egypt has consistently voted in favor of a range of UN resolutions condemning the Jewish state, including a Security Council vote last year on Resolution 2334, which criticized Israel for its ongoing settlement enterprise in the West Bank. The lame duck Obama administration ordered the US to abstain, rather than veto, allowing the motion to pass.

Following that resolution, Israel cut aid to some African countries that supported the motion and used other diplomatic punishments against Western allies, including the recall of several ambassadors, summoning of foreign envoys and canceling of high-level meetings. Jerusalem did not take any action against Egypt. The United States is likely to follow the Israeli lead in this case.

Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel told World Israel News (WIN), “There is no way the US will punish Egypt. It’s a strategic ally of both the US and Israel. One must not forget that Egypt is an Arab country and yet they have a positive influence by working with Israel to fight ISIS in Sinai and in keeping Hamas in check in Gaza. Egypt is in a very difficult situation. They cooperate with Israel but are still very central in the Arab world.” Mazel told WIN, “Egypt is playing a game. By submitting and supporting the UN resolution President al-Sisi has found an effective way to appease extremists in his country. It’s complicated for Egypt but they are doing their best to play the game.”

Trump’s threats match his security strategy

Veteran Israeli diplomat Ambassador Yoram Ettinger told WIN, “Trump’s threats to withhold aid are consistent with his security strategy which puts ‘America first’ and resurrects a policy of deterrence around the world. US policy is driven by American interests and when they don’t get their way they will exert a price.” According to Ettinger, “This president is saying loud and clear that the Palestinian issue is not the main item on Washington’s agenda. This is a departure from many years of faulty State Department policy at the United Nations.”

Ettinger agrees that Washington cannot punish Egypt in this case. “Egypt is a special case because it’s in American interest to strengthen al-Sisi. Washington will not punish him because they realize that he had to pay lip service on the Palestinian issue.”

US President Donald Trump’s new ‘National Security Strategy’ released Monday declares that Israel is not the cause of the Middle East’s problems. The Trump administration also says loud and clear that the UN vote condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not about Israel. The United States made a decision about its diplomacy and the location of its embassy.

Washington is being condemned at the UN. Trump may not punish Egypt and other strategic allies this time around, but he is also making it clear that he is angry and this better not happen again.