Analysis: Pessimism over Egypt’s fate in Israel, abroad

Dershowitz: Israel must prepare for a worst-case scenario, because neither has much influence over unfolding events.

Egyptians continued to press for Hosni Mubarak’s immediate resignation as president on Wednesday, but Israeli and foreign commentators contacted by The Jerusalem Post sounded a unanimously pessimistic note over the future of Egypt’s relations with Israel in the post- Mubarak era.
Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor and prominent political commentator, told the Post in an e-mail that “Israel must prepare for a worst-case scenario, because neither Israel nor the US has much influence over unfolding events.”
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Dershowitz described Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief promoted last week to vice president, as “Mubarak lite” in that he is closely linked to the disgraced president and would likely perpetuate his predecessor’s status quo.
Likewise, Dershowitz had little praise for Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, who has taken a leadership role among the protesters. ElBaradei, Dershowitz wrote, is “compliant,” and would serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, the widely supported Islamist organization that this week indicated it would join forces with ElBaradei to form a more robust opposition.
Alon Liel, a former senior Israeli diplomat, said that regarding relations with Egypt, the view from Jerusalem is bleak.
“I think the two possible models are the Turkish or, God forbid, Iranian model,” Liel said by phone Tuesday.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in EgyptClick here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Liel – part of Israel’s delegation in the 1988-89 talks for transferring the resort town of Taba to Egyptian control – said that even if the Brotherhood seizes power, he doesn’t expect Cairo to annul its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
“For Egypt, the peace process isn’t only the agreement with Israel, but also with the United States,” he said.
“I don’t know if the next government would like to disassociate itself completely from the US. Breaking the peace process, or not respecting it, will mean not only the end of relations with Israel, but also with Washington, and that is a huge, huge decision for Egypt.”
Still, Liel warned of the possibility of Egypt downgrading ties between the two states. Cairo could continue to function as an intermediary in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he said, while still discreetly reducing its diplomatic representation in Israel. He noted that the Egyptians had twice recalled their ambassador from Tel Aviv over the three decades of diplomatic relations.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said he, too, views the diplomatic and security horizon as grim.
“The only really politically organized power in Egypt, with the exception of the government, is the Islamists … Even if Mubarak pulls through, his will be a weakened regime. The Arab world is in the throes of a political and economic crisis, so we should expect unrest,” he said.
Dan Schueftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said the fallout from the disturbances would mark “the end of an era” of Israel’s relations with its much larger neighbor.
Schueftan issued a sharp rebuke to the US administration, which he said continues to believe “the problems in the Middle East stem from the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, and that once you bring Israelis and Palestinians together you can bring about a more stable Middle East.”
What’s happening in Egypt has no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, and Washington has misplaced its efforts by focusing too heavily on that issue.
Schueftan also noted that for Israel, a destabilized Egypt could mean its southwestern border could become the scene for renewed military conflict.
“If a confrontation with Egypt is not as unthinkable as we thought, then we must create a much stronger Israeli army, a much larger Israeli army, we must invest in it far more money and the defense budget will go up dramatically. The result is that we cannot develop our economy and society the way we had expected, but must invest much more in defense.”
All three Israel analysts agreed that from Israel’s perspective, the least bad contender to succeed Mubarak would be Omar Suleiman, as he has long cooperated with Israeli officials on intelligence and security issues, and could be expected to continue his predecessor’s pro-Western orientation.
ElBaradei, the commentators said, lacks an adequate base and is viewed by many Egyptians as an outsider, a reputation that requires him to depend on the Muslim Brotherhood to muster real support.
Egypt is now in the grips of an uprising that few could have predicted just two weeks ago. Liel articulated a view about the country’s future expressed by many observers in Israel and abroad since last Tuesday.
“Look, we’re really just guessing here,” he said.