Israel seeks new friends to counter Islamism

J'lem seeking allied blocs to help balance power as Islamists gain stronger footing amid Arab Spring.

Netanyahu Borisov 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu Borisov 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is actively looking for friends and allies further afield to counterbalance dramatic Islamic gains in the immediate neighborhood, a senior government official said this week as Islamists appeared to coast to a sweeping victory in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.
According to the official, the collapse of so many Arab regimes in the region – coupled with Iran and Turkey sitting on the sidelines waiting to exploit the situation for their own benefit – has Israel looking at three clusters of states as allies and possible counterweights.
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The first is the eastern Mediterranean circle, made up of Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. These countries, historic rivals of Turkey, are concerned about Ankara’s widening reach and intentions, and this has brought them into a much closer relationship with Israel than existed in the past.
The second cluster is a number of countries in sub- Saharan Africa – Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Sudan – whose concern about Islamic terrorism at home has led to growing political and security cooperation with Israel. This cooperation was evident in South Sudan’s opening diplomatic ties with Israel soon after it gained independence earlier this year, and the leaders of both Kenya and Uganda visiting here last month.
The third cluster includes countries in the region – as yet unnamed – that government officials say are in contact with Israel on issues regarding Iran and the sweeping changes in the region.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently made a couple of opaque references to ties with these countries, believed to be Persian Gulf countries. One official said the prime minister was signaling the Israeli public that despite the turmoil roiling the Middle East, there were some “points of light.”
And even as Israel is casting its eyes elsewhere for friends, it has not – one government official clarified on Thursday – closed the door on ties with Egypt.
“We haven’t given up on Egypt,” the official said. He added that the preliminary results in the Egyptian vote showing that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who are even more radical, were poised to capture some 65 percent of the seats came as “no surprise to anyone.”
“It is quite possible we will be moving into a period in our relationship where we will not have the same intimacy, but hopefully the same fundamental interest of both parties will prevail,” the official said.
“Israel and Egypt fought a war in 1948, in 1956, 1967 and 1973. Thousands of people were killed. Is that what they want to go back to? Is that what they are proposing?” the official asked of the Islamists currently riding the wave in Egypt.
Formally Jerusalem had no comment on the Egyptian elections, with one diplomatic source explaining that anything said “could and would be used against us by the Egyptian media.”
He did say that Jerusalem’s short-term goal was to keep open the channels of communication with the Egyptians wherever possible, and to make sure not to intervene or be perceived as intervening in the Egyptian process.
Israel, the diplomatic source said, was currently trying to minimize any damage in ties with Cairo, but was definitely not “writing Egypt off,” especially since there were so many uncertainties regarding how the process there would play itself out.
“We are at the very beginning,” he said, pointing out that after the parliamentary elections, the Egyptians would still have to write a constitution and elect a president.
It will “take months before the picture becomes clear,” he said.