There is a new Middle East taking shape, but its character and contours are
still emerging. The unprecedented political turmoil in Arab countries remains
rudderless, with no clear direction yet. The prevailing military dictatorships
of decades past will either survive in weakened versions, slowly yield to true
democratic reforms, or regress toward Islamism.
The old Middle East was
notoriously unpredictable – even the uprisings of recent months took everyone by
complete surprise. But there were certain truisms about the old order that gave
the region some measure of consistency. One such maxim was: “If you do not come
to the Middle East, the Middle East will come to you.” Indeed, its unresolved
problems came to the West far too often in various haunting forms, from airplane
hijackings and long gas lines in the 1970s to the mass terror attacks of
September 11, 2001. Sadly, that is not likely to change.
adage of the old Middle East held that “the Arabs cannot make peace with Israel
without Syria, but cannot make war with Israel without Egypt.” Damascus always
championed the rejectionist camp, blocking any comprehensive acceptance of
Israel in the region, while Cairo’s peace treaty with Israel (albeit a cold
peace) stymied any hope of pan-Arab defeat of the IDF in battle. This equation
will undoubtedly be impacted by the current unrest.
Egypt is already
showing worrisome signs of renewed hostility toward Israel.
Military Council now running the country is bowing to the will of the Tahrir
Square crowds by announcing its intent to reconsider the natural gas deals made
with Israel pursuant to the 1979 peace treaty.
If those agreements can be
legally assailed and undone, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty cannot be far
Indeed, all the major players jockeying for seats in the
parliamentary elections this autumn have pledged to “review” the treaty with
Israel – a position widely backed by public opinion polls. Leading presidential
contender Amr Moussa, the Arab League chieftain who has built his popularity by
shamelessly bashing Israel, insisted recently that the Camp David Accords had
“expired” and that Israel has failed to prove it is a “friend” of
Egypt’s interim foreign minister has promised to reopen the Rafah
crossing into Gaza, allowing Hamas to ferry in and out far more weapons and
terrorists than through its cross-border smuggling tunnels. Cairo also just
brokered the Fatah-Hamas unity pact, taking the Palestinians a major step away
from peace with Israel.
Finally, Egypt has announced plans to “open a new
page” with its long-time adversary Iran.
Meanwhile, the Assad dynasty in
Syria has launched a brutal crackdown on opposition protests that have resulted
in more than 800 civilian deaths so far, with another 10,000
Yet even if the Syrian uprising succeeds in dislodging the
Assad regime, there is little reason to think its Sunni replacement will be any
less hostile toward Israel. The Sunni majority likely will not be as pro-Iran,
but – like in Egypt – the Syrian masses have already been spoon-fed so much
anti-Zionist and anti- Semitic invective, it will assuredly be reflected even in
a democratically elected government. Something worse could actually replace
So I am left very pessimistic on the chances that the regional
upheaval will mean positive changes for Israel. At the least, Egypt and Syria
will follow the Turkish model, where an Islamist party has played the Israel
card to gain votes and then asserted an aggressively independent line against
Israel and the US in matters of foreign policy.
And all the while, Iran
is quietly exploiting the distractions caused by the “Arab Spring” to continue
its relentless pursuit of nuclear capabilities.
Parsons is media director for
the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/