Senior Israeli government officials have been strict in maintaining a silence regarding the events in Egypt, and have also been hesitant about criticizing – at least publicly – US President Barack Obama’s stand toward the developments there.
Privately, however, some have expressed deep concern at what they view as the hypocritical abandonment by the US of a longtime ally once he seemed to be in trouble, with one official saying that while America believes pushing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out would lead to a democratic government, the more likely scenario was that this would lead to an Islamist regime even worse on issues like human rights and freedom than Mubarak.
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On Monday, a number of politicians, pundits and former security officials began airing this criticism in public.
For instance, Deputy Minister for Galilee and Negev Development Ayoub Kara (Likud) told visiting former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a likely Republican US presidential candidate, that Obama needed to understand that “supporting the masses carrying out a revolution in Egypt is like support for the Muslim Brotherhood which is likely to take Mubarak’s place.”
Kara told Huckabee he was “disappointed by Obama’s turning his back” on Mubarak.
“It needs to be understood that if the Egyptian government will fall, the Muslim Brotherhood will take its place, and that will cause even worse problems not only for the Middle East, but for the whole world,” he said.
Kara said that while it was clear Obama wanted to see democracy established in the Middle East, “anyone with eyes in his head sees that there is no worthy alternative now to Mubarak, and those pushing the masses toward revolution are the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Americans needed to learn from their experience in Iraq, which is now “saturated with terror,” Kara said.
Another strain of this criticism, articulated most forcefully by Yediot Aharonot columnist Eitan Haber, who was a top aide to Yitzhak Rabin, is that this sends a dreadful message to Israel.
Obama threw Mubarak “to the dogs,” Haber wrote in a column that appeared on Monday.
“America, which waves the banner of ‘citizens rights,’ ‘democracy,’ and ‘freedom of information,’ turned its back in a day on one of its most important allies in the Middle East.
Obama sold Mubarak for the pot of lentils of popularity among the Egyptian masses,” Haber wrote, adding that the US president did this without a true understanding of the Middle East.
“Our conclusion in Israel needs to be that the man sitting in the White House is liable to ‘sell’ us over night.
The thought that the US might not stand by our side in the day of need causes chills. God help us.”
This theme was also picked up by former Mossad head Danny Yatom, who said in an Israel Radio interview that the US treatment of Mubarak was a dangerous message to Washington’s allies in the region – including Israel – that they could not rely on America.
Yatom said Washington’s first error was not in more aggressively supporting the opposition in Iran when it took to the streets against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the summer of 2009.
By contrast, Yatom said, “there is an important relationship” between the US and Egypt, with Egypt an important layer in Washington’s regional policy.
“The way Obama and Hillary Clinton abandoned Mubarak at once is very problematic, and I think hints to other allies – for instance Israel – that these things can happen under certain grave circumstances to us as well, and to others.”
Yatom said the US erred in talking – as Clinton did on Sunday – of an orderly transition to lasting democracy, and should have instead sufficed with demanding reform.
They should have supported him [Mubarak], but demand more reform,” he said. “I think he would have responded.”