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Many Israelis Worry About The 'New Egypt'

Euphoric Egyptians celebrate Mubarak's downfall. Everyone, it seems, is thrilled about Egypt -- except Israel.
Euphoric Egyptians celebrate Mubarak's downfall. Everyone, it seems, is thrilled about Egypt -- except Israel.
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By James Kirchick
The recent overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Tunisian counterpart Zine el-Abidine ben Ali has sparked a wave of enthusiasm across the Middle East, giving hope for peaceful democratic change in lands long ruled by despotic forms of government. But there is at least one country in the region that views the tumultuous events of the past month with something less than enthusiasm: Israel.

Since its declaration of independence in 1948, the Jewish state has become used to living in a tough neighborhood. In 1948, 1967, and 1973, it fought existential wars against well-equipped and larger Arab armies -- Egypt among them -- winning each conflict and eventually securing itself as the major military force in the region.

A Different World

The face of Middle Eastern politics changed definitively in 1978, when then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on the White House lawn. For nearly 30 years, that "cold peace," as Israelis termed it, was maintained by Sadat's successor Mubarak, who was annually rewarded with over $1 billion in U.S. aid for keeping up his end of the bargain. That treaty, one Israeli official says, has served as the "psychological cornerstone" of the country's relationship with a hostile Arab world.

The Camp David Accords, however, were never particularly popular with the Egyptian people. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by an Islamic radical, who was praised as a martyr across the region, and had a major Tehran street named after him by the government in Iran. And though Mubarak may have honored the peace treaty, he encouraged anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in Egypt, which reached a height in 2002, when Egyptian state television broadcast a 41-part series dramatizing the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an early-20th-century conspiracy tract alleging Jewish global domination.

Whatever Mubarak's faults, however, he was widely seen in Israel as a source of stability, certainly preferable to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement founded in 1928 that has long been the most organized opposition group in Egypt. The Brotherhood has sent mixed signals regarding the treaty, with some officials saying that it will be revoked, while others saying the new Egyptian government should adhere to it.

'Domino Effect'?

At this month's Herzliya Conference, an annual gathering of top Israeli security and defense officials outside Tel Aviv, the mood about Egypt was nervous.

"We may witness a domino effect with the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt and other countries," said Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and member of parliament. He called on the U.S. government to suspend military aid to Egypt and redirect it toward civilian programs.

Egypt shares a border with the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the militant Islamist group Hamas since 2007. Many in Israel fear that a new Egyptian regime would end the blockade on the strip or facilitate the supply of weapons to Hamas.

Some Israelis directed their criticism toward the U.S. government, which they believe has made mistakes on two fundamental issues: not standing by a loyal ally, and pushing for democracy in a society that is not yet ready for such a monumental change.

"It seems the Americans don't understand [that] democracy is something much bigger than free elections," said Boaz Ganor, the founder and executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism. "This doesn't happen in one day."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, countered that the U.S. administration well understands the potential danger of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo.

"The administration has reassured us that they have no intention of dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "I do think that has been and is U.S. policy. I think they recognize they can be a destabilizing force and we don’t know about the foreign influences that exist within the Brotherhood and how cleverly in the past they've played these kinds of situations."

Hoenlein said the Brotherhood was skillful at exploiting instability. "They exploit these kinds of eruptions and they play it smart," he said. "They don’t go out front because they know that will evoke a response so you play behind the scenes and you put on the most moderate face to make you most acceptable, and then they introduce their ideology."

The fear that Egypt will become more closely allied to Iran, Syria, and their proxies Hamas and Hizballah was echoed by Barry Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and author or editor of over a dozen books on the Middle East, Islam, and the Arab world.

"They're all saying the same thing: 'America is weak; America is in retreat; America can’t save its friends; we are strong; we are advancing; the future belongs to us.' And this is a disaster," Rubin said.

Officially It's All Good

Officially, Israeli leaders have been hesitant to sound skeptical about events in Egypt, mindful that the Camp David Accords are viewed there as an agreement struck with a corrupt regime. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told ABC News that he did "not think the relationship between Israel and Egypt is under any risk or that there is any kind of operational risk awaiting us."

In a speech to the nation on February 4, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cautiously welcomed calls by Egyptians for democratic reforms, yet expressed the fear that many Israelis feel. "All those who cherish human liberty, including the people of Israel, are inspired by genuine calls for reform and by the possibility that it will take place," he said, adding that "we expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace."

It's not just the Muslim Brotherhood that has threatened to tear up the Camp David Accords. Earlier this week, Ayman Nour, a leader of Egypt's secular opposition who ran against Mubarak in 2005 and was imprisoned by the regime, told Egyptian radio that "the Camp David accord is over."

On the other hand, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former diplomat who took on a leadership role during the protests that brought down Mubarak, recently told NBC News that "I assume Egypt will continue to respect" the treaty.

One prominent Israeli who diverged from the consensus is Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and leader of the "refusenik" movement for Jewish emigration. In an interview with the "Jerusalem Post" this week, Sharansky said: "This [untenable] pact between the free world and a bunch of dictators ostensibly bringing us stability was not broken by the free world. It was broken by the people in the streets. We have to go with this. This is the chance. I hope America will take it."
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by: Sam Aker from: Washington, DC
February 16, 2011 12:38
Your second paragraph is errant. Egypt in-fact gained the most out of the 1973 war and thus won it, not Israrel. They held onto their gains along the Suez Canal, roughly 10 miles deep into the Sinai Peninsula, and forced Israel to seek peace negotiations, calls for which they had ignored before the war.
In Response

by: 1973 from: tel-aviv
February 16, 2011 16:26
although the egyptian second and third armies did manage to hold onto land on the eastern side of the suez canal at the cessation of hostilities, israeli troops under the leadership of ariel sharon had completely surrounded and trapped the third army by crossing onto the western side of the canal, establishing a bridgehead, and then circling down towards the gulf of suez.

in fact, at the time of the second ceasefire, on 24 october 1973, the israeli army had taken quite a bite out of egypt, capturing the city of Suez, sitting on the outskirts of one of the country's largest cities, Isma`ilia, and signing the cease-fire on the road to cairo, just 101 kilometres from the city centre (about 60 miles).

although the egyptian army deserves credit for creatively storming and crossing onto israeli-controlled sinai (and this provided the illusion of a 'victory' for egyptians and a 'setback' for israelis), the ultimate end of the war was, by far, not an egyptian victory by any means. if not for the american and soviet intervention, israel had the ability to capture both cairo and damascus (not that this was the military's plan).

i suggest taking a look at a map of the military positions of both armies on the last few days of the war, which makes all of this quite clear. for example:
http://www.mideastweb.org/octoberwarmapegypt.htm
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2b/Yom2-crop.JPG

of course, the memory of the war by both nations differs starkly from the historical reality, given the respective psychological impact of the initial days of the war.

by: peter h from: chicago
February 16, 2011 12:52
Worry about what? Democracy? Isn't that what they dragged us into Iraq? Getting hung by our own freedom rope..the irony makes it almost worth it.

by: Ivo
February 16, 2011 18:26
Jesus Christ, ONE twitter window is enough, there is no need to litter the articles themselves with an additional twitter feed window. Sorry for posting this here but the Iranian articles where you do that are closed.

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix AZ
February 16, 2011 21:12
An outbreak of democracy? They might even want freedom of speech, or freedom of the press!!! What's this world coming to? :-)

by: Hugo McKissic Jr from: Phila Pa
February 18, 2011 05:37
Reform is sprouting in the Middle East, it is a protest over poor living standards, low wages, and police brutality. Some accords will be tested and if true they will be resilient and stand strong, if weak they will crumble to dust. The unique aspect of the Tunisian, and Egyptian government collapses is they were done by peaceful, yet strong protest. Now the challenge begins anew, to stop the police brutality, to increase wages for its people, to ensure the people have the basic needs, food, clean water, shelter, the lack of the governments to provide these needs caused the people to protest and revolt. Iran, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Libya are uneasy at this time and so they should be, as well as the countries in Africa that are not hearing their people voices calling for change, crying out for their basic living needs, the people are poor and they want change, they are demanding change. Tunisia and Egypt can become standard bearers for peaceful protest and peaceful revolt, the people stood strong, and the people were a powerful force.

by: BUTSeriously from: AUSTRALIA
February 19, 2011 10:00
Shame on Europe.
All the world knows that Jews have never occupied another peoples' land in all their 4000 year history. Its not Israel, a legally re-established UN state with all nations voting in the motion, but Jordan which is an illegal settlement. Jordan is in violation of the only condition of its creation - to house the Arabs of Palestine with full rights - else the entire creation of Israel is nullified. Jordan is perpetrating a genocidal stratagem of barring the Arabs from entry - with the EU and UN's blessing:
"IT WILL BE A HISTORIC COMPROMISE TO GRANT TWO STATES IN PALESTINE - ONE FOR THE JEWS - AND ONE FOR THE ARABS" - A cigar chomping Churchill.
Rocket science: Serial 2-state demands in the same land is nothing other than genocide - with the EU and UN's blessing. Calling Arabs as Palestineans, or shouting Zionists - does not alter the genocidal equation - it only confirms the underlying quest of it.
The EU and UN cannot claim naive when both are fully aware there is a declared and proven genocidal aspiration of the Islamic states - most of which are fictional, installed 120 years ago, in secret with no nations voting - for 30 barrels of oil.
If honest humans do not expose the corruption of the nations then the VE VERE NOT AVARE syndrome applies to them. So go ahead and make your day - remain silent - or expose the genocidal aspirations of Jordan and those nations today calling a deathly 3-state as a 2-state. Its math 101.
Jordan placed pre-67 signs, DOGS AND JEWS FORBIDDEN IN JERUSALEM AND HEBRON. The Islamic regimes bar all entry of Jews - because they are Jews. Jerusalem is a Hebrew name and the capital of the Jews; Hebron is the birthplace of Judaism and Monotheism. All humans know this more than they know their parents and children. More than thanking America - shame on every state which did a Heil Hitler salute at the UN last friday. At least the Nazis were honest about it.

How about a 2-state in Egypt instead - one for the original, native Copts slated for extermination?

Shame on the VE VERE NOT AVARE people.


by: Ariely from: Israel
February 21, 2011 15:50
Avoid repletion's of catastrophically historical mistakes.
Remember 1929 economical crises lead to Fascism and Nazism that get power on democratic elections.WW2.
2011: Economical crisis. Unemployment, High food prices, Political groups unhappy with the political system, Demonstrations;
Result? 2020- The cost may be unprecedented in human history.
Democracy- yes.
Parties promoting Islamism should be outlawed.
Modern example; Muslim brotherhood.
What for Muslims brotherhood stands for ahead the election?
(From a 14 Feb seminar)
*Egypt will be governed by Muslim lows and traditions.
*A non elected Islam prominent religious leaders will monitor that the elected government will follow their guidelines.
*Woman will be educated to perform their Islamic traditional home duties.
*Christians will not be permitted to be manager on top of Muslims people.
*They are not refereeing to the one of Muslim brotherhood fundamental points in their doctrine- and are not declaring that it is not their doctrine anymore:
"A Muslim can come closer to Allah by waging jihad against all non-Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, or polytheists in every possible manner
Dr. Ahmad 'Abd about Al-Walaa Wa'l-Bara article in the "Muslim brotherhood"
They want to use democratic system- however it leads to a catastrophe of global scale
-----
Parties promoting anti human rights, hate, aggression against other cultures, impose their ideology by force, banning democracy –should be outlawed from taking part in the democratic system.
!! Islamists anti-Western values are ideological.
Islamists are using the democratic system to get power later to oppress human rights, liberals, democracy, impose Islam worldwide by sward, woman oppression

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