Was Mubarak a Zionist?

Washington Watch: The ousted Egyptian president was a better ally to Israel than he got credit for.

Mubarak a Zionist? (photo credit: Reuters)
Mubarak a Zionist?
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 and Egypt.
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 hell.”
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 access.
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 for.
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.
ISRAEL 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 Hamas.
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 prevent smuggling.
The new government has halted that construction and opened the border; it’s not clear what it’ll do about the weapons smuggling.
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 Lauro hijacking, when he released the PLO murderers of Leon Klinghoffer.
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 for being.
He also understood that keeping the treaty was Egypt’s ticket to Washington, billions of dollars in aid and top-of-the-line military equipment.
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 reality.