What Egypt means for Israel

26 Feb

A summary of the impact of the recent crisis in Egypt on Israel’s relations with its neighbors

by Ilan Bloch

Photo courtesy of http://www.ayman.iyobo.com

Although the new military leadership in Egypt has assured the West that it will abide by international agreements to which Egypt is a party, the possibility remains that a future Islamist-dominated government may scupper the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Israeli PM Netanyahu has indicated a need for increased defense spending because of a future potential Egyptian military threat.

Even though the Muslim Brotherhood did not initiate the protests in Egypt, the fall of Mubarak might embolden Islamists in the region to try and overthrow existing regimes. The greatest danger of this is in Jordan, a weak country with a Palestinian majority. There is also the possibility that Hezbollah will try to tighten its grip on power in Lebanon, and even initiate armed conflagrations across the border. Even though the crisis in Egypt was by no means related to Israel, one of the ways in which Israel’s other neighbors might seek to appease public opinion could be to intensify anti-Israel rhetoric. In the PA, the crisis has pushed Abbas to call for new elections.  It can be expected that during an election campaign, candidates will compete over how belligerent and recalcitrant towards Israel they can be.

Israel’s relationship with its neighbors is directly linked to their perception of the role of the US in the Middle East. Mubarak’s fall might serve to diminish US power in the region. Obama’s equivocal response to the initial protests, together with the perception of a bias towards Israel, whose PM sought to have Western governments promote Egyptian stability and not push for Mubarak’s ouster, have already eroded American standing in the region. This has allowed a situation to develop in which Iran feels comfortable flexing its muscles by seeking Egyptian permission for two of its warships to pass through the Suez Canal. This, combined with America vetoing the UNSC resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, and the lack of any clear successful outcome in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will serve to further isolate the US and Israel in the region, and encourage Iran in its attempts to strengthen its influence in the Middle East. This could, in turn, lead to Turkey seeking stronger ties with Iran, and further distancing itself from America. Such a scenario could strengthen Israel’s feelings of isolation and make it less likely to offer concessions such as a renewed settlement moratorium in an attempt to jump-start stalled peace negotiations.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.

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