The Jasmine Revolution may smell less sweet now that it has run into a concerted
push back by the region’s autocrats, but it remains no less compelling than when
the world was cheering on plucky Facebook activists. However, the most
interesting developments from Israel’s point of view have been taking place on
the edges of the revolution.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s
political tin ear was on display again in a Wall Street Journal interview on
March 7, when he suggested that the US “invest another $20 billion to upgrade
the security of Israel.”
That’s a polite way of asking for more handouts.
Barak admitted it would be unrealistic to raise the issue without making a
“daring” peace offer. But that’s the least of it.
Barak appears to remain
mesmerized by America, and the fact is its power is still unrivaled. But the
trend line is heading south. One example of that is America’s fiscal house,
which is in serious disorder.
Israel is already getting $3 billion
annually, a testament to the affinity Congress has for it. The polls show it
also has broad support among American voters. But that support is shallow:
Whether it’s dogcatcher or president, almost no one chooses a candidate based on
his or her stance on Israel. The country is popular for most politicians because
it’s benign – there’s no large anti-Israel constituency that is alienated by
supporting the Jewish state. Compare that to, say health reform, an issue that
does sway votes. But the once bottomless US wallet is no more and stark choices
are ahead for Washington. Aid to Israel will be harder to defend, impossible to
expand. In fact, this country has long been rich enough to pay its own arms
bills and would do well to wean itself off the largesse now rather than fight a
The no-fly zone
Did anyone ask Israel’s help in
restraining Muammar Gaddafi? No, it’s America and Europe flying the
When Bahrain heated up, did the IDF send troops? No, in that
case it was the Saudis. Was Israel able to influence developments in Egypt or
Jordan? Of course not. In fact, it found itself at odds with America over
There was a time when the US was engaged in a Cold War and
military intervention in other countries wasn’t so controversial.
whupped Soviet-armed foes in wars, helped save King Hussein during Black
September and knocked out Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Barak believes that it remains
no less an asset today. “A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in
such a turbulent region,” he informed the Journal.
That is a dangerous
illusion. Iran has to some extent replaced the old Soviet Union as the chief
rival for influence in the region, but Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and
Hamas, hasn’t allowed for the kind of stunning victories that enabled Israel to
shift the balance of power. Israel can no longer march into Lebanon or Jordan to
set things right. It certainly can’t intervene in the Gulf, where the stakes are
highest of all for America. Instead, it has grown worryingly dependent on the US
for diplomatic cover, and for arms and technology.
Deliveries of natural gas from Egypt were halted in early February and the flow
has only gradually resumed after many weeks of repeated delays. It is almost
certainly a sign of things to come, but evidence suggests it wasn’t a conspiracy
of anti-Israel terrorists and the government. Terrorists blew up the pipeline,
but the delays in reopening it were most likely a product of the chaos that has
enveloped Egypt in the last few weeks – not evidence of a new, hostile stance
Whether Egypt becomes democratic or Islamist or reverts to
its old autocracy, no one can say yet, but it will certainly become more inner
directed as it struggles to restore order and deal with a stricken economy.
Tapped-out oil and gas resources and political pressure to retain the subsidies
on energy that encourage waste mean that Cairo’s new leaders will give priority
to Egypt’s own energy needs. Israel can manage without Egyptian gas, but Cairo’s
preoccupation with domestic politics and the likelihood that any kind of new
government will be less Israel-friendly means it will no longer have a partner
in combating Iran and Hamas. Ditto for Jordan.
with which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rushed to blame the murder on
Palestinian incitement is alone grounds for suspicion. But there are plenty of
other good reasons to reject the incitement claims. The most obvious one is if
there is so much incitement by the Palestinian Authority, why is there so little
terrorism? In the past year, there have been six attacks perpetrated by people
under PA rule, two of them by the same gang. If this is incitement, someone
should fire the PA’s minister of education. It’s not working. Abbas condemned
the killings, which is certainly far more important a message to the Palestinian
people than naming a square after Dalal Mughrabi.
THE REAL story is that
the PA is finally building a real state. Salam Fayyad has a long way to go and
there are certainly many in Fatah who oppose him. But the relative quiet of the
West Bank is testament to which side is winning.
Of course, if Netanyahu
has no intention of negotiating, he needs to deny this and continue the line
that all Palestinians, whether it’s Hamas or the PA, are unsuitable partners.
His rush to blame is a sign of desperation in the face of an untenable policy of
pretending he wants talks while doing everything he can to ensure they don’t
The ground is shifting in the Middle East. It’s a pity that
Israel’s current leadership has its feet set firmly in the past.The
writer is executive business editor at The Media Line. His book Israel:
The Knowledge Economy and Its Costs will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in