The results are in: Over 55 percent of readers voted
the Arab Spring as the biggest Middle East story of 2011. In second place was
the Iranian nuclear threat, with almost 23% of the vote.
End of year review: The death of bin Laden
2011's top business story: Euro zone debt crisis
Top shots of 2011: JPost photographer’s picks
One year ago,
Tunisian street vendor Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest social
and political injustice in his country. The flames he lit spread like wildfire
across the Arab Middle East, in lands parched by dictatorship, censorship,
extreme inequality, brutality and fear.
Fueling these fires was
Gone were the days in which Arab regimes could monopolize
information and present their propaganda on a single state television channel to
the masses. Today, every citizen with a smartphone and an Internet connection
could become his own correspondent or pundit. The ship of government-controlled
news struck an iceberg, and sank.
Before long, the leaders of Tunisia,
Egypt, Libya and Yemen were toppled like dominoes. Syrian President Bashar
Assad’s Alawite regime has been massacring Sunnis by the thousands to stay
alive. Sectarian strife nearly tore Bahrain apart. Iraq sans American presence
may not survive the next year intact. The region is in uncharted
Around the world, champions of liberal democracy applauded
Many heralded the era of an “Arab Spring.” In Israel,
however, few were applauding. Not because Israelis did not want to see their
Arab neighbors live in democratic, prosperous societies – just the
Israel, situated in the heart of the Middle East, is familiar
with the fundamentalist tide that has gradually been rising around the
Many Israeli observers knew that sudden, anarchic changes to the
region were unlikely to open the gate to moderate, democratic forces; rather,
they were likely to unleash fanatical ideologies and movements that have been
brewing for decades within repressive Arab states.
Sure enough, the Arab
Spring is turning into a dark winter. The most important Arab country, Egypt,
just completed two out of three election stages, and has welcomed the Islamist,
deceptively pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood into power. The even more hardline
Salafi al-Nour party is in a strong second place.
Secular liberals and
leftists are but a small blip on the radar screen.
They will not have a
say in Egypt’s path at this juncture in history.
As a result, Israel now
has to prepare itself for an Egypt ruled by the same movement – the Muslim
Brotherhood – that set up Hamas, which currently runs a terroristinfested regime
The Egyptian military, as unpopular as it is, is the only
organization that can check the new Islamist government.
It is struggling
to hold on to power. If the military disappears from the scene as a political
force, the peace treaty with Egypt may be downgraded to an uneasy truce at
The same scenario is possible, though significantly less likely, in
Jordan. The Hashemite royal court enjoys more popularity than Hosni Mubarak ever
did, but as 2011 has shown, it is impossible to know what tomorrow will
Islamists also came to power in Tunisia.
In addition to the
empowerment of Islamist regimes, the collapse of the old regional order has
created whole areas that are free of government sovereignty. This is most
visible in the Sinai Peninsula, where jihadi terrorist organizations are taking
full advantage of the breakdown in law and order to set up bases, smuggle arms
and plot attacks.
To the north, Syria, traditionally a problematic yet
rational foe, imploded into a state of civil war.
Israel must surely be
watching Damascus’s arsenal of weapons, which includes chemical missiles, for
the first sign that they could be transferred to Hezbollah’s hands.
collapse of the Assad regime would likely bring mixed results from an Israeli
perspective. The good news would be that a pro- Iranian ally and a key sponsor
of Hezbollah would vanish from the scene. Iran’s ability to transfer arms to its
Shi’ite proxy in southern Lebanon would be heavily damaged, and Tehran’s
leverage on the eastern Mediterranean would be minimized.
The bad news
could be that a Sunni Islamist government may replace Assad and join forces with
other new Sunni Islamist governments such as Egypt.
frustrating is the failure of Arab Spring fervor to penetrate Iran, where the
opposition is still licking its wounds after being battered by Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei’s henchmen in 2009.
For in the midst of this turmoil, Iran is
still racing toward a nuclear weapon, and time is running out for Israel to make
a decision on how to proceed. In such an unstable environment, the option of a
strike on Iran’s nuclear program becomes much more complicated.