Making the old city young again

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Mitchell Bard on the Egyptian Crisis
MYTH: "The Egyptian revolution has no impact on Israel's security."


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

Since signing the peace dealwith Egyptin 1979, Israelhas reduced the percentage of its GDP devoted to defense spending by nearly a third- from 23% in the 1970s to 9% today. 479Israelalso 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 Egypthas contributed to the economic growth of Israeland also was a catalyst for other peace negotiations. Psychologically, the treatyalso showed Israelisthat peace with an Arab, Muslim state is possible. 480

A change in regime could easily lead to the reversal of these trends. While Mubarakfulfilled 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 Israelas their neighbor. The Egyptianmedia in particular has often been critical of Israelto the point of anti-Semitismand the military has consistently directed war games against Israel. 481

If the next leader of Egyptreneges on the treaty, Israelwill find itself essentially surrounded by enemies- the same position it was in for decades following independence. A potentially belligerent Egyptwould join the threats currently posed to Israelfrom Hamasin Gaza, Syria- who remains formally at war with Israel, and Lebanonwho has become essentially an Iranian proxy dominated by Hezbollah. Jordanis also facing unrest and its future is uncertain. 482

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'sencirclement by potentially hostile forces.

A change in the Egyptianregime 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 Egyptto become an Islamic republic- much like Iran, a base for terror and even a more internally repressive regime. The Brotherhoodhas pledged to revoke the Egyptian-Israeli peace treatyand, since Egypthas the region's largest military force, it could threaten not only Israelbut pro-Western regimes such as Jordanand the Gulf states as well. 483

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 Brotherhoodis cause for concern, as is his vocal criticism of Israeland his record as an apologist for Iranduring his term as head of the International Atomic Energy Administration. 484

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 Lebanonpaved the way for the takeover of Hezbollah; and the 2006 Palestinian Authorityelections brought Hamasto power and helped doom peace talks. 485

Despite the historical precedent, Egyptcould 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.

479 Matti Friedman, "Israeli PM Says Ties With Egypt Must Be Preserved", The Washington Post, (January 30, 2011).
480 Yossi Klein HaLevi, "Israel, Alone Again?", New York Times, (February 1, 2011).
481 "Sports Show on Egyptian TV Turns into Platform for Spreading Anti-Semitism", MEMRI-TV, (March-April 2010).
482 Adrian Blomfeld, "King Abdullah II of Jordan Sacks Government Amid Street Protests", The Telegraph, (February 1, 2011).
483 Richard Cohen, "A Democratic Egypt or a State of Hate?", The Washington Post, (February 1, 2011).
484 Helene Cooper, "US Scrambles to Size Up ElBaradei", New York Times, (January 31, 2011).
485 Barry Rubin, "Obama Must Back Egypt's Regime, or Face a Disaster like US did in Iran", Christian Science Monitor, (January 31, 2011).