Was Hosni Mubarak a Zionist, as his critics across the Arab world claim? It
sounds absurd, but it’s an accusation that has riled a lot of folks in Israel
Of course, being called a Zionist is about as nasty a charge
as there is in many parts of the Arab world, the dark corners of the blogosphere
and a few other places.
To many Israelis, calling the deposed Egyptian
president a Zionist is an insult to their country, as they quickly and correctly
cite a long list of affronts that made for a cold peace, rather than the warm
alliance they’d hoped for.
For most Israelis, the unkindest cut of all
may be that for nearly 30 years as president, Mubarak refused to visit Israel
(he said his trip to Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral didn’t count) – leading Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman to tell the Egyptian leader he could “go to
That probably is what made Lieberman just about the only top
Israeli official unwelcome in Cairo; by contrast, Mubarak had an open door to
nearly every other Israeli leader, and they took full advantage of the
He was the go-to Arab leader when Israel needed help dealing with
other Arabs, particularly with the Palestinians. Israeli-Egyptian relations were
a bowl of chop suey. Mubarak’s detractors and admirers all have long lists of
examples to fortify their case. He was a better ally than he got credit
Some observers say that by keeping the peace cold he was able to do
more for Israel, as well as for Egypt. The Camp David treaty was never very
popular on the Egyptian street – perhaps Mubarak can be faulted for failing to
foster public support – and the outward chill allowed him to cooperate much more
with Israel than public opinion might have tolerated otherwise.
WAS very reluctant to see him go, perhaps a bit too reluctant. Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and other top officials lobbied American and European leaders
to help Mubarak keep his job, seemingly unable to comprehend that he faced a
domestic uprising based on decades of oppression, and it could only do harm to
try to portray Israel as his only defender. In a typical “it’s all about me”
view of the world, some Israeli commentators, reflecting what they likely heard
from government leaders, interpreted President Barack Obama’s call for Mubarak’s
departure as a betrayal of the Jewish state.
Peace with Egypt has been a
cornerstone of Israeli security for more than three decades, allowing it to cut
defense spending and focus on other threats.
Mubarak, for all his faults,
kept that peace intact.
He shared American and Israeli views of Iran, and
cooperated in efforts to isolate and sanction the regime. His successors quickly
began to upgrade Egypt’s relations with Iran, as well as with
Mubarak saw Hamas as an ally of the outlawed Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood, which he considered a threat to his government. He joined Israel’s
blockade of Gaza in order to weaken the Islamist terror group’s hold there, and
began the construction of a security barrier along the Gaza-Sinai border to
The new government has halted that construction and
opened the border; it’s not clear what it’ll do about the weapons
Mubarak worked seriously, albeit unsuccessfully, to broker
peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and to help free Gilad Schalit, the
IDF soldier kidnapped by Hamas.
He shared Israel’s contempt for Yasser
Arafat, although at times he supported the old terrorist, as in the 1985 Achille
hijacking, when he released the PLO murderers of Leon
When it suited Mubarak, or when he felt a need to show he
was in step with the Arab world, he would not hesitate to turn on Israel, even
while sharing a platform with its prime minister.
He would tolerate –
some say encourage – vicious anti-Semitism in the state-controlled media, and
from his own government, to deflect criticism of his regime. When asked about
it, he would say Egyptians need to let off steam (translation: better they vent
their anger on Israel than on me).
The new Egyptian government has
pledged – as have most candidates for president in the November elections – to
honor the treaty with Israel, but look for their versions of peace to make
Mubarak’s feel warm. All this is not to say Mubarak could or should have stayed
in power as long as he wanted, only that he was a better ally than he got credit
He also understood that keeping the treaty was Egypt’s ticket
to Washington, billions of dollars in aid and top-of-the-line military
Was Mubarak a Zionist? Of course not, but he was a valued
partner – a better partner than he got credit for until it was too late to save
him. But the fact that it was too late wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own. There
was nothing the US or Israel could have done to save him.
It’s time to
stop mourning the past and begin adapting to a new