January 31, 2011

As Egypt hits critical mass, what is Israel thinking? Or not.

It is ironic that a Jewish State cannot bear to see the writing on the wall. Amid U.S. concern that 40 years of support for the Sadat and Mubarak regimes may compromise Washington’s influence in the new Egypt, reports that Israel is CURRENTLY lobbying Western powers to keep Hosni Mubarak in power are astounding. 
In the final hours (or months) of the Mubarak regime, and with a good chance that the army and/or a broad coalition government will emerge, it seems unwise for Israel to draw further negative attention to itself. Worse, after selling itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East” since forever, Israel chooses THIS MOMENT to rebrand itself to the world as realpolitik over democracy? 

Is there anything to be gained by this awkward approach? Will France and Britain suddenly bolster Mubarak out of concern for Israel's sensibilities? One might almost think Israel's career diplomats were still on strike...
Israelis may be worried about an Islamist takeover in Egypt, having just gained one Islamist government to their north, in Lebanon. What happened in Beirut earlier this month -- a Hezbollah-controlled government has taken power -- was the result of a long-running and long-expected political transformation, not a sudden surge of popular support.
There are no ultimate guarantees in any peace process. Some scholars, like Daniel Pipes, have insisted that Israel should not make agreements with Arab states until they become democratic. Only a democracy, presumably, can be relied upon to honor a treaty of peace, because a dictatorship is liable to be overthrown. Essentially, this is an argument against Israel ever making peace with its neighbors, even if it's the state of war that helps those dictators hold on to absolute power (see under: Syria).

For three decades, peace with Egypt has allowed Israel to demobilize and redirect significant resources, and since Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, Israelis have lived in peace between two countries rated “not free” by Freedom House. It’s in Turkey, ranked “partly free” and functionally a democracy, where the Islamist AKP government has repeatedly confronted Israel over the past two years and called into question a decades-old strategic partnership. The last time Turkey had a revolution was 100 years ago, so what's so special about democracy?

After Anwar Sadat was assassinated, in 1981, Israelis worried that his successor Hosni Mubarak might not be disposed toward coexistence. He seems to have little love for Israel, but the peace treaty has been honored and he has helped cajole the Palestinians to negotiate as well.
Now that democracy seems to be breaking out in Egypt, Israeli officials have reason to fear it could be the wrong kind of democracy. But whatever happens this year, Israel has enjoyed 30 years without an immediate existential threat, 30 years to develop its high-tech global economy and absorb one million-plus Soviet emigres, etc. 
If Israel cannot afford to make peace with Islamic states under any conditions, then it’s going to be a long eternity. Certainly there are risks to making peace, just as there are risks to continuing in a state of war. In 1979, most Israelis agreed it was worth the risks to make peace with their most dangerous neighbor.
Those close to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are already discounting Mohamed ElBaradei as pro-Iranian because of his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq and his work going after Iran's nuclear program (half-heartedly, it is alleged). They are repeating Mubarak's ruse that the Muslim Brotherhood controls the Egyptian "street", even thought the Islamists have remained bystanders to the spontaneous protests and demonstrations.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton may be worried about the possible outcomes in Egypt, but they realize that this is not all about America. It is worthwhile for Israelis to prepare contingencies behind closed doors but to realize this is not all about Israel -- or they may make it so.

1 comment:

  1. Shai,

    You are spot on - Netanyahu's comment was about the dumbest thing I've ever seen him say, out of many dumb things. I skimmed enough of your other posts to see that you are not anti-Israel (although quite honestly that is the first impression this particular post gives). However instead of just criticizing, why don't you write something positive to motivate Israelis and Jews for why they *should* support the Egyptian people in their revolution? I am writing something similar but I am not as good or prolific a writer as you - so I throw down a friendly challenge for you to use your virtual printing press to create good, not just to rant.