by Joe Shea
February 9, 2011
'DO I LOOK LIKE I'M ON A DIET?'
Now that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and his regime is falling with him, will Israel be less secure? Even with its powerful army, navy and air force, nuclear arsenal and shrewd, capable leaders - and their steadfast American ally - they say yes.
Because that position implicitly urged the United States to keep the Mubarak regime in power until today, Israel is becoming the enemy of those in Egypt who fought to oust Mubarak - and its campaign against the Egyptian pro-democracy forces is thus a very dangerous one.
In a Feb. 4 New York Times article about Israel's campaign against the Egyptian revolution, the paper said "Israeli government officials started out urging the Obama Administration to back Mr. Mubarak, Administration officials said, and were initially angry at Mr. Obama for publicly calling on the Egyptian leader to agree to a transition.
"'The Israelis are saying, après Mubarak, le deluge ["after Mubarak, the flood"]' said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator. And that, in turn, Mr. Levy said, "gets to the core of what is the American interest in this. It's Israel. It's not worry about whether the Egyptians are going to close down the Suez Canal, or even the narrower terror issue. It really can be distilled down to one thing, and that's Israel.'"
The White House, meanwhile, has heard the Israelis, the Times article said: "A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said on Friday that Administration officials were reassuring the Israelis that 'we fully understand Israel's security concerns, and we're making clear that our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable.'"
The Israeli approach to the issue was fairly characterized in the same piece: "Supporters of Israel in the United States have been focusing on playing up the dangers they see as inherent in a democratic Egyptian government that contains, or is led by, elements of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, which opposes Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel."
Let's presume the accuracy of the Times article by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, and ask, What are the consequences of this stance in a post-Mubarak Egypt - indeed, in a post-dictatorial Middle East. We believe Israel's obsession with security has cost them secure relationships with every post-dictatorial democracy that may arise in the place of the autocrats who until recently ran Egypt and Tunisia, and who now run Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Sudan.
Throughout the media coverage of the recent uprisings in these countries, along with American alignment with these leaders - excepting Syria's - the spotlight has been on Israel's edgy friendship with the same dictators. Friends to America (again, except Syria), by extension they accept U.S. aid knowing that Israel is our one, true friend in the Middle East and that our relationship with ut is unshakeable - and utterly protective.
The Egyptian uprising has thrown a wrench into the works of that equation. Israel, with no subtlety, has fielded an army of talking heads on FoxNews and wherever else it could, arguing two things: First, that Mubarak should not step down until it's precisely known who will replace him; and second, that Israel should be the reference point in any decisions about support for other dictators in the region.
They should have trusted us instead.
Israel's interest is clear. It does not want a neighbor in Egypt who would unilaterally end the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by its enemies in Hamas. It doesn't want to worry about a new war against it for land in the Sinai desert between Egypt and any allies Egypt may find to fight with it - because war is the ultimate unifier of such allies, and their ideal distraction from their many big problems at home. After all, there are no real penalties for losing a war if no one occupies the enemy's land.
To gain traction for its pro-Mubarak view, Israel has demonized the Muslim Brotherhood, whose 100,000 members have been more akin to the very peaceful, anti-abortion Catholic group called the Knights of Columbus than to al-Qaeda's well-trained and sophisticated terror network. But Israel's pro-Mubarak campaign has elevated the Brotherhood to such a degree that it is now part of every conversation about Egypt and the future of the Middle East. Israel's media-spinners have empowered the Brotherhood to such an enormous degree that among many others they have became negotiators for the protestors' demands.
That has been a critical and, we can only hope, a reversible mistake. While the Brotherhood's name carries "bogeyman" power now, it didn't before the Israeli campaign, and since they have never been militant - even President Dwight Eisenhower invited their leader to the White House and praised him - they may never become so. It will depend on whether Israel's campaigners can force them into an alliance with al-Qaeda and other terrorists, whom the Brotherhood has publicly condemned in the recent past.
Israel risked a great deal in its failed bet on Mubarak. The pro-democracy demonstrators will not forget it, and could be very slow to forgive. From their perspective, a logical response would be the abrogation of the Sadat-Begin peace accords that have helped secure Israel's international borders for more than three decades.
Unless the United States, which has lost influence despite President Obama's best efforts for the demonstrators, can assuage the new Egyptian government, Israel will have ensured its eventual isolation and - in the absence of those who might have been its allies - dramatically weakened its security.
While it can't be faulted for having come to the defense of a leader who has forcefully repressed anti-Israeli ideologies, Israel should have followed, not resisted, the American lead. We always have Israel's back, pre- or post-Mubarak. That is a given. But we saw the way the river was running, and after a very brief moment of pro-Mubarak rhetoric, we decided not to swim upstream. Without pushing too terribly hard, we quickly began to distance ourselves from Mubarak.
Israelis, champion swimmers that they are, persisted in their support for Mubarak, however, and made our very complex efforts to achieve a pro-democratic, Israeli-neutral new government in Egypt far more difficult. And, now that Israel has failed to maintain the Mubarak regime in power, it may have chosen a world of enemies and a far less certain future for itself.
Write Joe Shea at email@example.com.