The fear of an Islamist encirclement has reminded Israelis of their predicament in the Middle East. In its relationship with the Palestinians, Israel is Goliath. But in its relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds, Israel remains David.
Since its founding, Israel has tried to break through the military and diplomatic siege imposed by its neighbors. In the absence of acceptance from the Arab world, it found allies on the periphery of the Middle East, Iran and Turkey. Peace with Israel’s immediate neighbors would wait.
That doctrine began to be reversed in 1979, when the Israeli-Iranian alliance collapsed and was in effect replaced by the Egyptian-Israeli treaty that same year. The removal of Egypt from the anti-Israeli front left the Arab world without a credible military option; indeed, the last conventional war fought by Arab nations against Israel was the 1973 joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur.
Since then all of Israel’s military conflicts — from the first Lebanon war in 1982 to the Gaza war of 2009 — have been asymmetrical confrontations against terrorists. While those conflicts have presented Israel with strategic, diplomatic and moral problems, it no longer faced an existential threat from the Arab world.
For Israel, then, peace with Egypt has been not only strategically but also psychologically essential. Israelis understand that the end of their conflict with the Arab world depends in large part on the durability of the peace with Egypt — for all its limitations, it is the only successful model of a land-for-peace agreement.