Israel likes stability, yearns for predictability. It abhors
chaos. And that is why the “Arab Spring” has been so problematic from an
Israeli point of view.
There is presently precious little predictability in the
region. Nations can turn on themselves over night, unleashing God only knows
what. And that’s the inherent danger – from Israel’s point of view –
regarding what is happening in Egypt right now. No one knows what forces will be
unleashed, or where they will lead.
Israel likes the knowable, even if
the knowable, the stability, is based on fundamentally bad actors. Take
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his father, Hafez, for example. These are evil
men who caused Israel countless headaches and much suffering. Yet they were
predictable. Israel knew, for the most part, how they would act, could predict
Israel was able to take out a Syrian nuclear
installation in 2007 (at least according to foreign reports and the memoir of
former US President George W. Bush) because it could fairly judge what Bashar
Assad’s reaction would be. If the Syrian president’s nose was not rubbed into
the act, the conjecture went, he would not react. And, indeed, he
The same could be said of former Egyptian president Hosni
Mubarak. He was no lover of Zion, but after almost three decades of dealing with
him, Israel knew him and what he was – and was not – capable of.
is why the “Arab Spring” has been so problematic for Israel. That
predictability, stability, has been lost. First in Syria, and now – for a second
time – in Egypt.
As millions of people take to the streets in Egypt to
rid themselves of their president elected just a year ago, Jerusalem – as
Israeli officials have been instructed to say – “is watching
And that is all they are instructed to say. Beyond that
mantra, government officials – wisely – are not commenting.
They are not
commenting on what they want to see, or on what they think they will
This is wise policy for a couple of reasons. First, because whatever
Israel says on behalf of one side or the other will be used against that side by
the other one.
Second: What could Israel possibly say? That it hopes
whatever happens in Egypt, Cairo will honor the peace treaty? That would simply
be stating the obvious. These are domestic Egyptian events over which Israel has
absolutely no impact or say. So why speak out? Official silence, however, should
not be confused with a lack of concern. Israel is concerned, mightily
Not panicky, because this country has the ability to defend
itself and protect its vital interests, but concerned.
Concern No. 1 is
how the current chaos and anarchy impact the ability of Egypt to police and control what happens in Sinai.
In the immediate aftermath of the "Tahrir
Square" revolution two years ago, the situation in Sinai deteriorated. The gas
pipelines to Israel and Jordan were repeatedly sabotaged and blown up, and
terrorist attacks and rocket attacks were staged from Sinai. In the past, when
the Egyptian military was distracted by events taking place in Cairo, elements
inside Sinai used the commotion to launch attacks and create problems in and
from the peninsula.
A second concern is that Egypt may become
ungovernable. Israel has no interest in its largest neighbor becoming a
failed state. A failed state, an ungovernable country, cannot be counted upon to
uphold its treaty requirements, for instance.
Israel also has no
illusions – just as it has no illusion concerning Syria – that whoever
ultimately prevails there will be imbibed with pro-Israel
sensitivities. One of the names bandied about as a potential leader is
Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and former head of the Arab League known
in Jerusalem for his long-time antipathy toward Israel. Another name appearing in the Western media as a leader of the opposition is Mohamed ElBaradei,
someone whose exit as chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2009
Israel had longed to see.
A third concern is that if anarchy prevails in
Cairo, Israel and/or the Jews will be blamed. This concern is deeply ingrained
in the Jewish and Israeli DNA. (Those who think this is little more than Jewish
paranoia need look no further then Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay’s
comment on Tuesday that “Diaspora Jews” were responsible for the Gezi protests
that rocked his country last month.)
And the final concern regarding Egypt has
to do with how all this will impact Hamas. On paper, a weakened Muslim
Brotherhood should mean a weakened Hamas, as the Brotherhood was seen as Hamas’s older sibling and patron. In practice, the relationship between the two has not
been completely smooth.
Mohamed Morsi did not provide Hamas with all it
had hoped for – he clamped down on the arms smuggling into Gaza, and three
Hamas men were accused of taking part in last August’s attack that killed 16
Hamas has been quiet lately, both because of Israeli
deterrence and because of a sense of obligation to commitments it made
toward Morsi, who helped broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in
November. If Hamas no longer feels committed to Morsi, it may no longer feel
obligated to keep the border quiet.
Israel and Egypt worked out an odd
modus vivendi during the year Morsi was in office. According to
the new rules, there is absolutely no contact between the countries’ leaders –
as there had been in the past – and even no contact at the level of foreign
minister to foreign minister. But there is a good channel of communications
between the militaries and defense establishments.
harbored any fantasy concerning Morsi. Steps he took in Sinai to crack
down on the anarchy there, or moves to stop arms smuggling into Gaza, or even
efforts to broker quiet between Israel and Hamas in Gaza were perceived as
things he did to protect his own interests.
From the day he took
office until today, there had been deep concern in Jerusalem because of his
extreme Islamic worldview, about how he would relate to Israel and the peace
treaty five or 10 years down the line, if he was ever able to get his chaotic
house in order.
That turned out to be a huge “if.”
When it comes to Egypt, Israel
can do little more than worry - and prepare for a worst-case