What does the Egyptian revolution mean for Israel? A great deal and,
unfortunately, none of it is particularly good, though the country will have to
adjust to these new circumstances. People who don’t know very much predict some
great opportunity for peace in a rosy democratic dawn. But this has nothing to
do with reality.
The implications should be divided into two categories:
those that relate to Egypt directly and those arising from the event’s fallout
on the regional situation.
Even if one assumes a best-case outcome – a
stable, moderate democracy – it presents some difficult problems. The simplest
way to put it is that certainty has been replaced by doubt. The issues include:
Will the new government preserve the peace treaty? Not only the Muslim
Brotherhood but also the two best-known oppositionists (Ayman Nour and Mohamed
ElBaradei) have spoken of the need to revise the treaty, hold a referendum or
dispense with it altogether. Even if they do choose to preserve it, Israel must
assume that this kind of thing is in the realm of the possible.
the treaty is not formally torn up – due to fear of losing US aid or of Israeli
retaliation – it can be emptied of content. If Egypt violates the treaty without
admitting it, Israel may have trouble convincing the US to act. And how does it
respond without triggering a confrontation? For example, let’s say that out of
economic interest the government wants to keep open the gas pipeline. But it
comes under repeated attacks by terrorists, the first of which has already
happened, and soon no longer functions.
Another problem is border
security. Again, we are told that it is in the interest of Egypt, especially the
army, to avoid having terrorists cross the border.
Yet similar logic has
often proven mistaken on many other issues. With junior officers and soldiers
sympathizing with Islamism or radical nationalism, the orders of the generals in
Cairo might not be followed with a high degree of discipline.
country will have to spend more money and reservist days to rebuild its defenses
along the long border with Egypt. No matter how many international or Egyptian
assurances are given, it cannot depend on what might turn out to be wishful
THEN THERE’S the Gaza problem. Helping Hamas is considered a
national and religious duty by most Egyptians. Maintaining the sanctions on
Hamas and a closed border is unpopular. Can any elected government resist the
popularity to be obtained by opening the border and want to sustain the
unpopularity in maintaining the status quo? Such a step would further embolden
Hamas and entrench it in power.
More arms and more sophisticated weapons
are going to flow across the border. Indeed, this is already happening. The
possibility of a renewed war with Hamas in several years is increased. And
suppose the IDF needs to retaliate against a Hamas attack as happened in
Operation Cast Lead? Can one assume that an Egyptian government would stand by
and do nothing? Maybe; perhaps even probably, but not
FINALLY, THERE is the issue of the Muslim
While the likelihood of the Brotherhood taking power in the
near future is very low, the chance of it gaining power in the long run is now
enhanced. At any rate, the Brotherhood is going to be an important force and
perhaps an influence on the government. As it spreads its message of hate, this
is not likely to lead to a love-fest for Israel.
Radical nationalism is
also a threat. An Egypt that goes down that road could renew its alliance with
But won’t the Egyptians just concentrate on raising living
standards and enjoying freedoms? Perhaps.
Yet the problem is that there
is no money for improving the economy and there is more likely to be frustration
than prosperity. We have seen how a government that cannot deliver the goods
provides scapegoats instead.
In light of these factors and of the
possibility of anarchy and terrorism, Israeli tourism is likely to become
untenable. It certainly would not be advisable.
The situation can be
summarized by saying that so far Egypt has gone from positive to neutral. The
question is whether it will go over into the negative.
WHAT ABOUT the
regional situation? Is Egypt likely to be a democratic light unto other
Arabic-speaking societies? The likelihood is that the radical regimes – Iran,
Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon – are not going to politely
Their armies and security forces are willing to shoot to kill.
There may be demonstrations, but there won’t be revolutions.
The wave of
popular upheavals is more likely to destabilize more moderate regimes that
aren’t hostile to Israel than radical ones that are. In the end, though,
probably no governments will fall. But they – especially Jordan and the
Palestinian Authority – will be intimidated. They know that any compromises with
Israel or friendly relations with it will not sit well with the masses and those
who would agitate them into anger and action.
Another consequence, then,
of the revolution is to put the peace process, already frozen, into a very deep
freeze. Those who believe that events in Egypt and anti-government
demonstrations accord some great opportunity for advancing negotiations overlook
this basic fact of how internal politics restrain the flexibility of leaders in
the Arab world.
To make matters worse, friendly Arab governments now have
to worry whether America is a reliable ally that will protect them.
knows whether Washington might declare them to be a dictatorship and support
their opponents? And there’s also a message for Israel. How can it be expected
to take risks and make concessions when it sees the very real possibility that
anyone with whom it makes a deal may be overthrown and their successors not
honor their pledges? Finally, iran, Syria and other Islamist forces see the
Egyptian revolution as, at minimum, the destruction of their strongest Arab
opponent and, at best, a possible gain for their side.
They are likely to
be emboldened. After all, they have virtually taken over Lebanon without any
strong US response and have entrenched the Hamas regime in the Gaza
HOW CAN I present such a gloomy analysis while the Western world
is celebrating a joyous event in Egypt? Because it’s unfortunately an accurate
assessment. The gap between Israeli and Western perceptions is still another
aspect of the problem. There’s no danger like one that the potential victims
don’t even notice.The writer is director of the Global Research in
International Affairs Center (http://www.gloriacenter.org).