The recent ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt could mean anything from a victory for democracy to a domino effect of toppling stable regimes in the Middle East and paving the way for more control by radical Islamic leaders. As of this writing, Mubarak may be relaxing in Sharm-El-Sheik, in a coma, whisked out of the country for his own protection or assassinated. People elsewhere in the Middle East may be getting their own ideas about launching a coup. Where does that leave Israel, and what is Israel doing about it?
According to Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, “One of the first casualties of the Egyptian revolution may very well be Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. The Egyptian public’s overwhelming animus towards Jews renders it politically impossible for any Egyptian leader to come out in support of the treaty…The junta now ruling Egypt refused to explicitly commit [itself] to maintaining the treaty. Instead, under intense American pressure they sufficed with stating that they would maintain all of Egypt’s international obligations.”
However, Leslie Susser of JTA (“With Egypt in turmoil, Israel rethinks readiness for multi-front war,” February 15, 2011) said that Egypt would not be “quick to wage war on Israel or abrogate the peace treaty between the two countries. If Egypt did, at the very least it would forfeit the $1.3 billion it receives in annual American military aid. Moreover, to launch a ground war against Israel, Egypt would have to order the American-led multinational peacekeeping force out of Sinai, the huge buffer zone between the two countries. That’s something a new regime would be unlikely to undertake lightly.”
Still, Egypt’s population has doubled since the signing of the treaty, and most people are exceedingly poor. When people are living on a few dollars a day, the climate is ripe for a change in power. Anyone who promises an economic fix will appeal to the masses.
Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, said, “The Muslim Brotherhood will continue to maneuver patiently for power. The military will set limits and implement them. All the radical dictatorships and movements that hate America, the West, Israel and real democracy are still working all-out (and far more cleverly than their Western opponents) around the clock. If one side is sophisticated and realistic while the other engages in fantasies, who do you expect to win? And those roles are precisely the opposite of what Western hubris thinks.”
Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for the whole range of outcomes. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are preparing for the possibility of an all-out war. Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is concerned about emerging threats in the region, citing “tectonic changes,” leading to “gains for the Iranian-led radical axis at the expense of the region’s moderates,” according to Susser’s article. Furthermore, Ashkenazi “pointed to the growing dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamist shift in Turkey and now the danger that Egypt, once the linchpin of the moderate camp, will fall into the orbit of radical Islam. Things could get even worse, he said, when the Americans finally pull out of Iraq, leaving that Shiite-dominated country free to lurch toward the radicals.”
Still, some people in Israel – and in the U.S. – think that “a wave of democracy will sweep the Middle East from Cairo to Tehran, making war in any form less likely,” Susser’s article said. Realistically, most of the region is not known for democracy or stability, but one can only hope for the best.