Feb 3, 2011

Is Israel's Security Impacted by the Egyptian Revolution?

Mitchell BardBy Dr. Mitchell Bard

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The impact of unrest in Egypt on Israel's security will not be known until it is clear who will be leading the country. Whatever his failings as a leader within Egypt, Hosni Mubarak faithfully upheld the peace treaty with Israel. If, however, Mubarak is replaced by someone who does not keep the country's treaty commitments, Israel's security will be endangered.

Since signing the peace deal with Egypt in 1979, Israel has reduced the percentage of its GDP devoted to defense spending by nearly a third - from 23% in the 1970s to 9% today. Israel also significantly reduced the number of soldiers stationed on its southern border and has been able to focus its strategic planning on other threats. Peace with Egypt has contributed to the economic growth of Israel and also was a catalyst for other peace negotiations. Psychologically, the treaty also showed Israelis that peace with an Arab, Muslim state is possible.

A change in regime could easily lead to the reversal of these trends. While Mubarak fulfilled the letter of the peace treaty, he was never fully committed to its spirit. The media, military and general public were never conditioned to accept Israel as their neighbor. The Egyptian media in particular has often been critical of Israel to the point of anti-Semitism and the military has consistently directed war games against Israel.

If the next leader of Egypt reneges on the treaty, Israel will find itself essentially surrounded by enemies - the same position it was in for decades following independence. A potentially belligerent Egypt would join the threats currently posed to Israel from Hamas in Gaza, Syria - who remains formally at war with Israel, and Lebanon who has become essentially an Iranian proxy dominated by Hezbollah. Jordan is also facing unrest and its future is uncertain.

If this scenario plays out, the region will be destabilized and become a powderkeg for renewed conflict. The risks of compromise with the Palestinians would also grow as the creation of a Palestinian state would complete Israel's encirclement by potentially hostile forces.

A change in the Egyptian regime has broader implications as well, especially if the Islamist-oriented Muslim Brotherhood - a crucial player in the protests - gains power. This scenario would open the possibility for Egypt to become an Islamic republic - much like Iran, a base for terror and even a more internally repressive regime. The Brotherhood has pledged to revoke the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and, since Egypt has the region's largest military force, it could threaten not only Israel but pro-Western regimes such as Jordan and the Gulf states as well.

Mohammed ElBaradei has emerged as one possible opposition leader, but it is by no means clear which direction he would take the country if he were to take power. The fact that he is now backed by the Muslim Brotherhood is cause for concern, as is his vocal criticism of Israel and his record as an apologist for Iran during his term as head of the International Atomic Energy Administration.

Egyptians deserve freedom and democracy, but that is not always the outcome of revolutions. The 1979 Iranian revolution, for example, started as a revolt against the oppression of the Shah but resulted in the establishment of an Islamic tyranny; the 2005 revolt in Lebanon paved the way for the takeover of Hezbollah; and the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections brought Hamas to power and helped doom peace talks.

Despite the historical precedent, Egypt could emerge from the current turmoil with a democratic government that is committed to good relations with Israel. Israel, unfortunately, must plan for the possibility of a different outcome.

Related Links

Israel fears Islamic rule in Egypt once Mubarak removed - Daily Nation
Obama to Egyptian Army: Remove Mubarak now, start transition - DEBKAfile
US response to Egypt draws criticism in Israel - My Way News
Psalm 83 or Ezekiel 38 - Which is the Next Middle East News Headline? - BPB (Bill Salus)
New Jordanian PM in talks to form gov't with opposition - Jerusalem Post