In the wake of the Biden-ordered Afghanistan debacle, the Middle East is reshuffling, sending newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett scrambling to find friends in Israel and abroad. One imminent alliance with Egypt has a Biblical precedent which the Prophet Isaiah warned King Hezekiah was an ungodly union.
Bennett and Egypt
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently invited Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for an official visit, which would be the first state visit by an Israeli leader since 2013.
Israel and Egypt officially declared peace in 1978 with the signing of the Camp David Accords but several issues have led to even greater cooperation in recent years. Egypt has been troubled by the decade-long Sinai insurgency by Islamic terrorists. Deadly attacks have targeted both Egyptian security forces as well as civilians. Israel has cooperated with Egypt in its fight against the Islamists.
With the Gaza stumbling block jammed between them, Egypt has been acting as an intermediary between Israel and Hamas, managing to arrange ceasefires when necessary. Frequently, Egyptian interests put it on the side of Israel. This week, Egypt closed down the Rafah Border Crossing indefinitely, seemingly in response to renewed Hamas-led riots on Israel’s southern border which included multiple arson attacks and resulted in a critically injured IDF soldier.
But the renewed connection between the two countries may have more to do with foreign affairs. Bennett landed in Washington on Tuesday in preparation for his first meeting with President Biden. Bennett has already announced that the main focus of his meeting will be the threat of Iran.
The issue of Iran may become contentious. Biden has pushed to jumpstart the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) known as the Iran nuclear deal which Israel considers to be an existential threat. The Obama-brokered JCPOA signed in 2015 essentially allowed Iran to convert its peacetime nuclear program into a weapons-oriented program beginning in 2025. Iran, which is a Shiite non-Arab nation, is seen as a threat by the Arab Sunni states in the region. The JCPOA lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran which former President Donald Trump left in 2018, as well as restore aid and ties with the Palestinians, which Trump also severed. Most of the economic relief went into Iran’s support of regional terrorism via proxies in other countries, fueling their regional expansionist agenda.
This common regional threat led to the signing of the Abraham Accords last year with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as subsequent normalization agreements with other Muslim-Arab countries in the region. The timing of Egypt’s invitation, coming as Bennett presents his objections to the JCPOA with Biden, implies that they have a similar interest.
For the Biblically-minded, an alliance between an Israeli and Egyptian leader against a common enemy has a strong precedent. After the death of Assyrian king Sargon II in 705 BCE, Sargon’s son Sennacherib became king of Assyria. In 703 BCE, Sennacherib began a series of major campaigns to quash opposition to the Assyrian rule, starting with cities in the eastern part of the realm. In 701 BCE, Sennacherib turned toward cities in the west. Hezekiah then had to face the invasion of Judah. Despite King Hezekiah paying tribute to Assyria, even sending the doors of the Temple to produce the promised amount, Sennacherib nonetheless renewed his assault on Jerusalem.
According to the Bible, Hezekiah forged several alliances with Egypt in what Isaiah sarcastically called “vessels of papyrus” (Isaiah 18:1-2) and “a covenant with death” (Isaiah 28:15). He warned against the revolt by declaring that an alliance with Egypt would bring disaster to Judah:
Oh, disloyal sons! —declares Hashem— Making plans Against My wishes, Weaving schemes Against My will, Thereby piling Guilt on guilt—Who set out to go down to Egypt Without asking Me, To seek refuge with Pharaoh, To seek shelter under the protection of Egypt. The refuge with Pharaoh shall result in your shame; The shelter under Egypt’s protection, in your chagrin. Isaiah 30:1-3
But also according to the Bible, Hezekiah was a godly man, the opposite of his father, Ahaz, and thus did not rely on Egypt for support, but relied on God and prayed to Him for the deliverance of his capital city Jerusalem.
Rabbi Spiro: Hezekiah not a precedent, but…
Rabbi Ken Spiro, a historian and Senior Lecturer and Researcher for Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, did not think that a connection between Egypt and Israel was based on the Biblical precedent, though there were lessons to be learned.
“It is difficult to make an analogy between Hezekiah and the current alliance with Egypt,” Rabbi Spiro said. “Hezekiah was, unlike Bennett, an anointed king. He also had the benefit of prophets. And Egypt in Biblical times is not the same Egypt we have today, which is ethnically different.”
“It is interesting to note that the Egyptians never showed up when they said they would, when they were needed,” Rabbi Spiro said. “Perhaps Bennett could learn a lesson from that before he starts making alliances. And Hezekiah was an incredibly righteous Jew who had total faith in Hashem. Bennett could certainly learn a lesson from that.”
“Bennett is scrambling to make an alliance of convenience under the framework of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Rabbi Spiro said. “I think you are going to see more of that, not just from Bennett but from other world leaders as well. The image of the US has been so damaged from the Afghanistan debacle that anyone in the region who is afraid of Iran or even Islamist extremism is going to look for allies and not just rely on the US. Everyone is making a move in the Middle East now. Iran and the Taliban and any Islamist extremists pose a huge threat to the moderate Sunni Arab states. They are all going to align together and naturally move towards Israel.”
“Egypt is concerned about Hamas which, despite being Sunni, is aligned with Iran, so they have an interest in speaking with Bennett about the Iran deal,” Rabbi Spiro said. “The more moderate states, like Egypt, are looking for stability and Biden made it clear that he does not support that. This is a continuation of the Obama years which were characterized by a failure to understand the Middle East or even the ancient nature of the nations involved.”
Rabbi Winston: Bennett seeking a true alliance but won’t find it
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, a prolific author on the end-of-days, explained that the Biblical concept of an alliance is still relevant today…and Bennett does not have it.
“The ideal alliance is the type described in the Bible after the Children of Israel received the Torah. They became one man with one heart. What Bennett is building is an alliance of interests. Outside of that point of interest, there is no connection.”
“Egypt is not really supposed to be an ally of Israel because we are essentially different,” Rabbi Winston said. “We cannot be one heart, one man, with them. Israel has to be truthful and serving Hashem. The Egyptians, at least in that time, were not.”
“Bennett is a desperate man. He feels like he has no real allies, which is why he formed a coalition with the secular left-wing and with the Arab parties. He has despaired of finding allies and is looking for allies who have one point of common interest. ANd the world is precarious now making it difficult to find even those kinds of allies. In the end, he will be obligated to people who he really doesn’t like and who don’t like him.”
“When Trump was elected, he and Netanyahu already had ‘one heart’, a common interest and values,” Rabbi Winston said. “Israel and the US were connected in more ways than just one specific goal.”
Despite the recent political environment appearing grim for Israel, Rabbi Winston remained optimistic.
“The Talmud states that in the end-of-days, evil decrees will increase until the Jewish people wake up and call out to Hashem,” Rabbi Winston said. “That is the true Biblical ‘woke’ movement that the secular ‘woke’ movement is trying to replace.”