Forward Thinking

Israel, Egypt and the Chill in the Arab Spring Air

By J.J. Goldberg

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With political and social upheaval sweeping the Middle East, Israel is threatened by a tsunami of hand-wringing, angst-ridden warnings of impending doom. New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner summed up the situation in this news analysis over the weekend. Here is Reuters’ Crispian Balmer on the issues a week earlier, and here’s Haaretz’s Amir Oren the day before that.

There are basically four main worries: Bronner sums them up neatly:

As angry rallies by Egyptians outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo this week have shown, Israel’s relationship with Egypt is fraying. A deadly exchange of rockets fired at southern Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Hamas-controlled Gaza this week showed the risk of escalation there. Damaged ties with Turkey are not improving. Cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank seems headed for trouble.

Possible solutions all carry their own down-sides. Turkey insists its ties with Israel won’t improve unless and until Israel apologizes for the deaths of the nine Turks killed in the storming of the Mavi Marmara last year, but Jerusalem doesn’t want to because it feels it has nothing to apologize for. Security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority depends on restoring diplomatic momentum toward a peace agreement, but the Palestinians are headed down a dangerous unilateral road via the U.N., and they say they won’t come back to the table unless Israel either halts settlement construction or agrees to base future borders on the pre-1967 armistice lines. Israel was committed to do both in the 2003 Road Map but the government finds both unpalatable.

And then there’s this: As Bronner reports,

Last weekend, officials were contemplating a major military assault on Gaza. But that plan was shelved by the crisis that emerged with Egypt, by the realization that Hamas itself was uninvolved in the terrorist attack and by the worry about how such an assault would affect other countries’ views during the United Nations debate of a Palestinian resolution in September.

It’s all very awkward. And complicated.

It’s often overlooked that Egypt’s difficulties in policing Sinai, including its Gaza border, are compounded by the peace treaty with Israel, which demilitarized Sinai, barring Egyptian troops. Israel has quietly agreed in the past few days to let Egypt bring in some troops, but not without anxious debate. As happens with increasing frequency these days, Israel’s military brass favors letting Egypt deploy, based on good working relations with the other side and intelligence estimates that it’s the only way to keep things safe, while the political leadership (see here)and right-wing punditocracy (here, here and here) are leery of making deals with the other side because, well, they’re Arabs.

There are some positive repercussions. For one, the new Egyptian government is finally moving toward something the Mubarak regime never bothered to do: set up a serious security zone along its Gaza border to crack down on smuggling tunnels. For another, that threatening demonstration outside the Israel embassy in Cairo turned out to be a dud. As Al-Ahram online reported, a million protesters were promised, but only a few hundred showed up.

On the other hand, free-lance writer Armin Rosen frets in The New Republic that the increasingly visible role of the military means civilian liberals won’t be able to dislodge the generals and bring the revolution back onto the road to democracy.

Left-leaning Haaretz blogger Carlo Strenger, a Tel Aviv University psychology professor, runs through some of myths of both left and right on the nature and meaning of the Arab Spring. And in the London Daily Telegraph, the conservative old Middle East hand Alistair Horne looks at the growing list of fissures and dashed dreams of the Arab Spring and wonders why anyone thought spring was coming to the Arab Middle East in the first place.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Palestinian Authority, Reuters, Sinai, New York Times, Israel, Hamas, Gaza, Egypt, Haaretz, Ethan Bronner, Arab Spring, Crispian Balmer, Amir Oren, Al Ahram

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