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With Egypt strike, Israel violates two borders in three days

Two incidents in three days, in which Israel’s military was caught with its hand beyond its borders, raise questions of sovereignty and what it means to Israel.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Egoz Reconnaissance Unit, which specializes in guerrilla warfare in southern Lebanon. (Illustrative photo: IDF Spokesperson/Flickr)

Sovereignty is a funny thing. Some countries claim more of it than they really have, some don’t have full control over their sovereign territory or airspace, and others willingly cede some of their sovereignty for a number of reasons.

Two cases of Israel violating the sovereignty of its neighbors made headlines in the past few days. The first incident involved Israeli combat soldiers infiltrating Lebanon’s borders on Wednesday.

Israeli violations of Lebanon’s airspace, maritime and land borders are, of course, nothing new. Overflights sometimes reaching as far north as Beirut take place on a near-daily basis. This case only even made headlines because four Israeli soldiers were injured inside Lebanese territory.

Israel doesn’t even deny its incursions into Lebanon and the areas under its control. When Israel sometimes acknowledges the violations, it describes overflights as necessary and defensive. Following the most recent incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded simply, “We will continue to act responsibly in order to defend Israel’s borders.”

Nothing to see here; move along.

The violations of Lebanese sovereignty are a case of one country boldly and arrogantly acting with the knowledge that its superior power allows it to do so. Such acts of military aggression run the risk of escalating into a wider conflict, as occurred in 2006, but as Israel’s repeated airstrikes against targets in Syria show, decision makers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv believe the risk to be minimal. In short, they know they can get away with it.

Hezbollah, too, has a history of violating Israeli airspace. Nearly a decade ago the group attempted to send crude UAVs into Israel’s north and more recently, managed to fly a drone deep into the Negev.

As for Lebanon, decision-makers in Beirut have a simple calculation: start a war in response to Israeli aggression or make due with a complaint in the UN and keep on as if nothing happened. It has never opted for any option but the latter.

The second case, of an entirely different nature, took place along Israel’s southern border on Friday. The Israeli Air Force reportedly struck a rocket-launching site on the Egyptian side of the Gazan border in Rafah. The drone strike, first confirmed by unnamed Egyptian officials, most likely carried the approval, or at least acquiescence of Egypt, or its army.

Nearly all Egyptian military activity in the Sinai Peninsula is carried out with, and only with, Israel’s explicit approval. The Sinai was demilitarized following the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and in recent years, Israel has given the Egyptian military approval to deploy tanks and other armed forces into the Sinai in order to restore order and fight jihadist elements there.

Put together, the existing open lines of communication between Israeli and Egyptian military officials, the fact that the drone strike was first announced by Egypt and warnings Egypt gave Israel the day before about a planned rocket attack, all point toward the likelihood that Cairo either acquiesced to an Israeli request for permission to strike the rocket cell, that Egypt actually asked Israel to carry out the attack on its behalf or that it simply looked the other way. Such cooperation is reminiscent of U.S. drone policy in Yemen.

Sovereignty is a funny and hypocritical thing. While countries demand that others respect their own sovereignty, they readily violate others’. Sometimes it is considered an act of war, sometimes it is ignored because responding would be more trouble than it’s worth.

Of course the most convoluted cases of sovereignty are Israel’s control over the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights. In the West Bank, Israel does not claim sovereignty but is the effective sovereign, ruling the land and people militarily, with both legal and military tools. In Gaza, Israel relinquished physical control but maintains its rule over the Strip’s airspace, maritime zones and land borders.

In East Jerusalem, Israel unilaterally extended its sovereignty by annexing the land. It did not, however annex the people, the vast majority of whom hold revocable permanent residency and are stateless.

In the Golan Heights, Israel extended its sovereignty over Syrian territory, this time offering citizenship to its residents, but many refused, believing that the land will eventually return to Syrian control.

Sovereignty is a funny thing.

The use of “Jerusalem” has been modified so as not to imply recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, in accordance with the entire world community’s non-recognition. It’s a complex issue, which I’ll address in a later post.

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    1. Asma Eweida

      I like your analysis. I agree with everything. I was just struck by the phrase referring to Israeli officials, “policymakers in Jerusalem.” It really implies nothing else than Jerusalem is the Israeli capital. I understand the Knesset is in Jerusalem. Yet the phrase is too strong

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Hmm. that might be because pretty much all the policymakers are in Jerusalem – the Knesset, most of the ministries, the Supreme Court. I suppose to some that would imply that Jerusalem is the Israeli capital, something which would also be true…

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Israel and Lebanon are still in a state war.
          Israel and Syria are in a state of war.
          Neither of these countries are at peace with Israel.
          How can Israel violate a countries sovereignty when they are at war.
          Egypt and Israel are in constant communication with happenings in the Sinai, as both countries are at risk from Islamists that operate there.
          Countries have the legal obligation to protect their citizens, in special circumstances allowing actions over borders.
          Seldom do we hear much discussion about Turkeys cross border raids into Iraqi Kurdistan to kill the PKK.
          All things are relative to the circumstances, including sovereignity.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Jed

      How dare Israel fight terrorists even when the Egyptians admit they were terrorists?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Laurent Szyster

      Lebanon is state ?

      I thought it was just a collection of sectarian and ethnic fiefdoms ruled by competing militias and mafia dons …

      Reply to Comment
      • JG

        Tell us more about your stupid arrogance, hasbaratool….

        Reply to Comment
    4. Vadim

      In Lebanon – the Lebanese army has no authority in Southern Lebanon and Hizbullah reigns supreme. Had Lebanon been able to take care of their Terrorists, Israel wouldn’t have to do it by itself.

      In Syria – the situation is total chaos and new powerful weapons are brought in. What does the author propose? Should we ask nicely of Al-Qaida to refrain from using them? Or wait until after they are fully deployed and aimed at Israel? Then go to the UN and have them reach some meaningless resolution which will condemn both sides?

      In Egypt – the author himself admits that Egypt’s dirty work was probably done with Egypt’s permission.

      East Jerusalem’s population can have a regular Israeli citizenship. Gaza is an entity that is at war with Israel.

      The author proposes no alternatives, does not even attempt to show that Israel’s motives in these strikes is anything but preemptive self defense but uses phrasing which implies there is something wrong with Israel’s behavior (“they know they can get away with it”)

      Besides the usual “Israel is bad” bla bla, what is the point the author is trying to make?

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        I have a friend from East Jerusalem who was recently naturalized. It cost thousands of shekels, took 5 years, and required the services of a (Jewish) lawyer who threatened to take the Interior Ministry to court for delaying so blatantly.
        This isn’t really ‘can’ to me.

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          I have a friend whose father wanted to build his own house legally. To get the permits he paid thousands of Shekels, it took 6 years and required the services of a lawyer.

          I have waited almost a year for a trial over 4K NIS.

          Welcome to Israel…

          P.S How does your friend feel being part of the Zionist entity?

          Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            She’s happy to have a state. Doesn’t change the building situation (which is far worse than your scenario), but at least she can live anywhere in the world and still be allowed to return home.

            Reply to Comment
    5. XYZ

      The first and foremost responsibility of a state is to protect the lives of its citizens. Nothing is more important….and if it means crossing borders to attacks outlaws and terrorists, so be it. That is why Nobel Peace Prize Winnter President Obama crosses borders and attacks terrorists with drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen.

      Reply to Comment
    6. David T.

      Terrorism is the presence of a belligerent occupier. He targets not only a few citizens but a whole people to submit them to his intentions – in this case: The colonialization of their country and the denial of their right of self determination and majority ruling since 1919 by Zionist or on their behalf.

      Without Jewish terrorism, Israel would not exist today after the Mandatory decided in 1939 to release the mandated State of Palestine into independence in the following 10 years. Of course this is something you find legitimate, don’t you?

      Reply to Comment