Israel and the new Middle East

Gideon Levy writes:

As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.

The Egyptian regime became an ally of the Israeli occupation. The joint siege of Gaza is irrefutable proof of that. The Egyptian people didn’t like it. They never liked the peace agreement with Israel, in which Israel committed itself to “respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” but never kept its word. Instead, the people of Egypt got the scenes of Operation Cast Lead.

It is not enough to have a handful of embassies in order to be accepted in the region. There also have to be embassies of goodwill, a just image and a state that is not an occupier. Israel has to make its way into the hearts of the Arab peoples, who will never agree to the continued repression of their brothers, even if their intelligence ministers will continue to cooperate with Israel.

If there’s one thing shared by all factions of the Egyptian opposition, it is their seething hatred of Israel. Now their representatives will rise to power, and Israel will find itself in a difficult situation. Neither will anything remain of the virtual achievement that Netanyahu often paraded – the alliance with the “moderate” Arab regimes against Iran. A real alliance with Egypt and its sister-states can only be based on the end of the occupation, as desired by the Egyptian people, and not on a common enemy, as an interest of its regime.

Zvi Bar’el writes:

So what has happened so far? A corrupt president in Tunisia flees, to cheers from around the world. Protests erupt in Egypt, and gloom descends. Protests are held in Iran, and the world cheers. A prime minister is deposed in Lebanon, to fear and dread. An Iraqi president is overthrown in a military offensive, and it’s called democracy. Raucous demonstrations take place in Yemen, and they’re called interesting but not terribly important.

Why the different reactions? This is supposedly the new Middle East the West always wanted, but something still isn’t working out. This isn’t the Middle East they dreamed of in the Bush administration, and not what nourished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. A new, unexpected player has appeared: the public.

Up to now, the world has been divided into two camps: “complicated” countries where the government represents the public and every decision is subject to public oversight, and “easy” countries where business is conducted at the top and the public is just window dressing. The dividing line between the two has always been starkly clear. Everything north of the Mediterranean belonged to the first group and everything to the south and east to the second.

The north had political parties and trade unions, a left wing and a right wing, important intellectuals, celebrities who shaped public opinion, and of course, there was public opinion itself. In the south the division was simple. It was the distinction between moderates and extremists, meaning pro-Westerners and anti-Westerners.

If you’re a Saudi king who buys billions of dollars of American weapons, you’re pro-Western and therefore entitled to continue to rule a country without a parliament, one where thieves’ hands are amputated and women aren’t allowed to drive. If you’re an Egyptian president who supports the peace process, you’re pro-Western and have permission to continue to impose emergency rule in your country, jail journalists and opposition members, and fix elections.

Amos Harel writes:

The events of the last few days in Egypt – apparently the most important regional development since the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal of 1979 – are also an expression of the decision-makers’ nightmare, the planners and intelligence agents in Israel.

While in other countries many are watching with satisfaction at what looks to be possibly the imminent toppling of a regime that denied its citizens their basic rights, the Israeli point of view is completely different.

The collapse of the old regime in Cairo, if it takes place, will have a massive effect, mainly negative, on Israel’s position in the region. In the long run, it could put the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in danger, the largest strategic assets after the support of the United States.

The changes could even lead to changes in the IDF and cast a dark cloud over the economy.

Western intelligence in general and Israeli intelligence in particular did not foresee the scope of change in Egypt (the eventual descriptor “revolution” will apparently have to wait a little longer). Likewise, almost all of the media analysis and academic experts got it wrong.

In the possible scenarios that Israeli intelligence envisioned, they admittedly posited 2011 as a year of possible regime change – with a lot question marks – in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but a popular uprising like this was completely unexpected.

More than this, in his first appearance at a meeting last Wednesday of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the new head of military intelligence Major General Aviv Kochavi said to member of Knesset, “There are currently no doubts about the stability of the regime in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is not organized enough to take over, they haven’t managed to consolidate their efforts in a significant direction.”

If the Mubarak regime is toppled, the quiet coordination of security between Israel and Egypt will quickly be negatively affected. It will affect relations between Cairo’s relationship with the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, it will harm the international forces stationed in Sinai.

It will mean the refusal of Egypt to continue to allow the movement of Israeli ships carrying missiles through the Suez canal, which was permitted for the last two years, according to reports in the foreign press, in order to combat weapons smuggling from Sudan to Gaza. In the long run, Egypt’s already-cold peace treaty with Israel will get even colder.

From the perspective of the IDF, the events are going to demand a complete reorganization. For the last 20 years, the IDF has not included a serious threat from Egypt in its operational plan.

In the last several decades, peace with Cairo has allowed the gradual thinning out of forces, the lowering of maximum age for reserve duty and the diversion of massive amounts of resources to social and economic projects.

The IDF military exercises focused on conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas, at most in collusion with Syria. No one prepared with any seriousness for a scenario in which an Egyptian division would enter Sinai, for example.

If the Egyptian regime falls in the end, a possibility that seemed unbelievable only two or three days ago, the riots could easily spill over to Jordan and threaten the Hashemite regime. On Israel’s two long peaceful borders there will then prevail a completely different reality.

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Comments

  1. All very interesting. But, what takes over for Mubarak has yet to be decided. There are no charismatic leader. Although cameras and the internet show protest, it does not show what is happening in the thousands of villages. The revolt may be from the ground up, but it may not represent the entire ground. When Nasser and the army officers overthrew King Farouk, he appealed to the large mass of Egyptian people. When he died, the outpouring of the common man for Nasser was sea of grieving faces. I do not see that kind of individual today. The Egyptian army will play a significant role in who gains power. And behind them stands $1.3 billion military budget from the US. Israel’s main supporter and partner in the Middle East will not permit an “Iran” in Egypt. The person to lead the country will be safe for the US and Israel.

  2. Well now, perhaps the Israeli Government as it now stands, should be nervous. But you can’t really have pity on them, especially the way they have been acting. Only delusional fools would believe that they could go on treating people in such a manner that they have been doing to the Palestinians with impunity. What ever happens, yesterday is gone, today is reality, tomorrow, who knows? But I would be willing to bet that there won’t be a status quo as has been in the past. If Syria & Jordan also change, then it’s going to be interesting what the M.E. will look like here in 2011.