Difficulties for Israel
A number of issues are beginning to intersect and result in instability for Israel. From an Israeli standpoint, political conditions are fraying at the edges and challenging Israel’s ability to manage all of these difficulties: Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy military, increases its control and influence in Lebanon and maintains an even more prominent position in the government thereby undercutting efforts to consolidate Lebanon’s strands of democracy. Iran of course is always hovering overhead building bombs and threatening Israel’s existence. Hamas continues to make gains in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s relationship with Turkey is more than frayed; it is seriously damaged and in need of repair. Al Jazeera’s revelations about the negotiating process has damaged Fatah’s credibility and directed more positive attention toward Hamas.
And clearly the situation in Egypt does not bode well for Israel’s future relationship with Egypt. There are many questions to be answered. Remember there was a time when in 1979 we thought a government run by Islamists was laughable and impossible. There was a time when peace activists and human rights workers thought that there could be nothing worse than the Shah of Iran. I am certainly not suggesting that change in Egypt is not morally and politically inevitable, but it remains the case that Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel has been very stabilizing and could be a casualty of revolution in Egypt.
Let’s look at a few outcome possibilities in Egypt and speculate about their implications for Israel. First, an Egyptian leader to emerge could be Mohamed ElBaradei who has international standing. ElBaradei poses problems for Israel. He is forming a coalition with the Muslim brotherhood and could increase their standing and the strength of their voice. ElBaradei’s anti-Israel tendencies are well enough known. He has called the Gaza Strip a large prison and sided with Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan who has been harshly critical of Israel. ElBaradei may not share Muslim brotherhood ideology but he will use them to bolster his own position and thus set the conditions for more oppositional relationship with Israel and the United States.
Second, it remains unclear whether or not change in Egypt will result in a liberal democracy. Not only will the Muslim brotherhood be strengthened but Egypt’s history of authoritarianism will not be replaced easily. Egypt’s civil society is undeveloped and weak and it could take a generation to weed out corruption and ineptitude. Hernando de Soto writing in the Wall Street Journal cited the example that to do business in Egypt requires dealing with 56 government agencies, countless inspections, and corruption. Such a civil society and business conditions cannot prosper. None of this bodes well for Israel because it increases instability.
Third. Israel has been very troubled by the US response to the protests. After siding with some of Israel’s enemies–the Sauds and Hashemites–the US is increasingly seen as an unreliable partner. This means Israel should be even more stubborn about giving up territory that may have defensive implications in exchange for American security guarantees.
Finally, building democracies is difficult business and it’s easy to bungle it. Look at what happened in 2006 when Condoleezza Rice, and her supposedly stellar international relations credentials, pressured people for elections in Gaza. There was always the naïve belief that groups like Hamas would moderate after they were in power, or that they would participate in a fair democratic process. We still know nothing about the skills and intentions of the protesters. Elections in Gaza resulted in violence and serious trouble for Israel and elections in Egypt, even legitimate elections, could cause Israel trouble.