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New Egypt - Big Question Mark For Israel

Israel Concerned That Egypt May Eventually Revoke Peace Treaty & Turn Hostile If Muslim Brotherhood Takes Control

Supreme Council Of Egypt's Armed Forces Pledges To Honor Israeli- Egyptian Peace Treaty Of 1979

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Welcomes Supreme Council's Commitment To Peace Agreement Saying It Has Served Both Nations As Well As Cornerstone For Middle East Stability

Ehyptian President Mubarak

 At the end of the sabbath, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Egypt's ruling Supreme Council pledge to honor all its international agreements including the peace treaty with Israel. Netanyahu praised the praised the peace agreement as serving the interests of both countries and a cornerstone of Middle East stability. As the monumental events unfolded, there was no telling what they would portend for Israel. While visiting the U.S., Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel must 'upgrade' its long term security while pushing for peace with both the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. For the foreseeable future the Egyptian Army, that has served as an anchor of moderation that has resolved the crisis, will be running the country. David Essing assesses how Mubarak's departure is being viewed in Israel.

 Prepare for the worst but hope for the best - that is Israel's unofficial reaction to the Egyptian Revolution. While visiting the U.S., Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio: 'Although Israel is strong it must monitor the situation and upgrade its long term security'. After meeting U.N. Security General Ban Ki-moon in New York, Barak said it was up to the Egyptian people to decide their future. But Barak also cautioned about holding an Egyptian election too early, for example within ninety days. In his view, a premature ballot could result in the Muslim Brotherhood being the real winners of the revolution. Despite changes in the region, the Defense Minister said Israel must strive to advance the peace process with the Palestinians and seek peace agreements with 'all our neighbors', an apparent reference to Syria. And he added that peace making was less dangerous than the alternative.

Barack Obama (White House Photo, Pete Souza)

In Washington, Barak Obama conferred with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Later the White House issued a statement that stressed America's unshakable commitment to Israel's security which was reflected in its defense aid and security cooperation. The Egyptian crisis will obviously be high on the agenda of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during his upcoming visit to Israel. Mullen is a friend of the outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenai and his trip was previously planned so that he could attend farewell ceremonies scheduled for February 14th. No doubt that Israeli leaders will be hoping to hear Admiral Mullen's reassurance of continued U.S. military support against the backdrop of the new uncertainty over Egypt.

Nonetheless, the accompanying fog of revolution has obscured the future and raised many big questions for Israel. The only thing that is clear is Israel and the rest of the Middle East have now entered uncharted waters, where no one has any maps to steer by. U.S. President Barack Obama has been certain of his course from the very beginning, but one guesstimate is as good as another. Will the Egyptian Revolution emulate, as Obama believes, Mahatma Ghandi's peaceful revolution in India or is it destined to be hijacked by the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood turning Egypt into a second Iran. That would raise the specter of Egypt's jettisoning the peace treaty and the reviving the Southern Front against Israel with the biggest army in the Arab, equipped with modern U.S. weapons and lead by an American trained officer corps. However, some Israeli experts believe there is a better than even chance that although the Shite Muslim Brotherhood is now the best organized political organization, the vast majority of Egyptians will reject a radical Muslim state ruled by shariya religious law. Look at the figures, there are only two million Shite Muslims in Egypt out of a population of eighty-five million.

As for other political parties, they have always been brutally suppressed by the Mubarak regime and never allowed to grow. Moreover, in the foreseeable future, the Egyptian Army will be overseeing developments and it will not want to jeopardize the $2 billion in military and financial aid that Cairo receives annually from the U.S., since it signed the peace treaty in 1979. Tourism is also a major income earner for Egypt a nation hard pressed to fed its burgeoning population and tourists and Muslim terrorists do not mix.

Border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip

However most experts agree that even if Egypt does not go the way of Iran and the peace agreement does survive, Cairo will adopt a more hostile or less cooperative approach toward Israel. The former regime was a bitter enemy of Hamas in Gaza, partly because of its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, during the current crisis, Israel permitted the Egyptian Army to move some 1,000 troops into demilitarized Sinai to cope with Bedouin rioting. So what happens now? A first test case will be whether the Egyptian authorities will lift the blockade of arms smuggling into Gaza.

'Yes we can... lose the Pro-Western Moderate Arab states in the Middle East!' Obviously, that is not what U.S. President Barack Obama wants but his critics here in the Middle East are wondering if the U.S. leader fully realizes what might eventually ensue after the departure Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Obama seems enthralled by the Arab masses, as if they have responded to his Cairo address of June 4th, 2009 and are about to embark on what he had then called 'a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world'. But in the corridors of power, not only in Israel, but also Saudi Arabia, Jordan and most Arab states, the question was being asked: 'What is Obama doing!' Successive U.S. leaders had heaped praise on Mubarak as 'one of America's closest allies, a cornerstone of peace and moderation' and overnight, Obama led the cavalry charge to dump Mubarak immediately and usher in, who knows what? Possibly another dictatorship, most likely dominated by the radical Muslim Brotherhood, a fanatical Muslim organization that hates the U.S. as much as it hates Israel.

What message was Obama sending to America's other Arab allies, none of which are democratic, and yes, also to Israel? Could they count on America's loyalty or might they also be betrayed when Obama starts hyperventilating over: 'Yes we can, bring democracy to the Middle East!' Or is he hoping to win over the opposition, even if they happen to be far worse than the 'bad guys' like Mubarak, who deserved to be kicked out. It can be said that from the start, former British PM Tony Blair got it right by stating that the necessary transition to democracy had to be managed gradually by building democratic foundations. Otherwise, the change, would end up with the best organized opposition seizing power. In many cases they will be Muslim extremists who will play the democracy card for 'one vote, one time' and then they'll take over for good. It is a matter of evolution not revolution.

Mahmoud Abbas, Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There is ample evidence to substantiate this view. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter pushed so hard for change in Iran that he helped bring brought about the Khomeini Revolution in 1979 and the outcome of the last 'democratic' election in that country has been a reign of bloodshed and terror. Lebanon, through no fault of the U.S., is now teetering on the brink of a total takeover by Hizballah, an Iranian surrogate. Both Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khameini and Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah have predicted that the events in Egypt portend another victory for the Islamist movement. The road to Palestinian hell has also been paved by America's good intentions. Former President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to permit Iranian - backed Hamas run in the 'democratic' election of 2006. Although monitored and approved by Jimmy Carter, Hamas reportedly coerced many voters on its way to victory. Later in Gaza, Hamas drove Abbas supporters out of the area in a bloody coup - some of those caught were thrown to their deaths from high - rise buildings. To this day, Hamas and Abbas are involved in, at times, a deadly struggle.

This is the stuff of democracy in most of the Middle East, where the vicious religious confrontation now raging between Shite and Sunni Muslims has exacerbated the situation and where, according IDF intelligence, Shite Iran could produce nuclear weapons within one to two years. The coalition of Sunni countries that support the U.S. drive to prevent Iran from going nuclear, has been shaken by what they see as Obama's betrayal of Mubarak. But for now, some observers say it is difficult to predict the long term impact. Obviously the situation in Egypt will be on the agenda when Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrives in Israel to attend farewell ceremonies for the outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Prof. Niall Ferguson, a Harvard University professor, believes that Obama has failed in his conduct of America's foreign policy. Interviewed recently by the The Marker business supplement at the Davos Conference, Ferguson said: ' The President's approach is based on the belief that good will and speeches can create a new reality. However, Obama could end his first term with zero achievements and the loss of Egypt and the Middle East'. Ferguson was asked where Obama had gone wrong in the Middle East? The historian replied: 'Obama is guilty of naivete. He entered the peace process stumbling, unprofessionally without a clear strategic plan. Speeches and quotations are not a strategy. He appears an amateur and has no one in the White House who can formulate a global strategy. The sole thing the administration does is to react to events, and the only thing Obama proposes is that he is not George Bush'.

There is still no way of knowing who will eventually govern Egypt. For the time being, the Muslim Brotherhood is cooperating in the process but which direction Egypt will go can no more be predicted than was the eruption of the rioting in Tunis and Cairo, that have already created a new Middle East. Question - if some Arab leaders now consider Obama to be unreliable and a weak reed, will they consider cutting a deal with Iran? Yet there is another side to the Obama approach - the U.S. cannot be perceived as dictating the type of regimes that rule in the Middle East any more than it can in China. America does business with whoever in his power, more or less, and that is the price it pays for international stability and the guaranteed flow of oil. However, once a democratic movement seriously challenges a dictatorship, the U.S. must support democracy, letting the chips fall where they will.

David Essing

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