Nervousness in Israel

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 30, 2011

Increased democratization in Egypt is, by itself, a good and wonderful thing. But it would be shortsighted beyond measure not to worry about what might come after Mubarak. Here’s why:

The street revolt in Egypt has thrown the Israeli government and military into turmoil, with top officials closeted in round-the-clock strategy sessions aimed at rethinking their most significant regional relationship.

Israel’s military planning relies on peace with Egypt; nearly half the natural gas it uses is imported from Egypt; and the principle of trading conquered land for diplomatic ties began with its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt more than with any other foreign leader, exceptPresident Obama. If Mr. Mubarak were driven from power, the effect on Israel could be profound.

“For the United States, Egypt is the keystone of its Middle East policy,” a senior official said. “For Israel, it’s the whole arch.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Mr. Netanyahu has ordered his ministers and their officials to stay publicly silent on Egypt while events there play out.

Many analysts here said that even if Mr. Mubarak were forced to leave office, those who replaced him could maintain Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel since it is the basis for more than $1 billion in annual aid to Cairo from Washington and much foreign investment.

But others noted that the best organized political force in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, the Palestinian rulers in Gaza whose weapons smuggling the Egyptian government works to block.

As the story notes, Jordan could be the next candidate for social unrest, and any ascent to power on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood could mean increased radicalization in the occupied territories, and a general feeling on the part of the Israelis that they are under a state of siege. Again, I am all for greater freedom in the Middle East, but if whatever remains of the peace process gets killed off as a consequence of the emergence of a theocratic Egypt, the region may well lose a great deal more than it gains by ousting Mubarak.

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