Israel Should Pull A Surprise Out of Its Strategic Playbook

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.

Path of Israeli-built Fence along Egyptian Border to Prevent Breaches by Illegal Immigrants and Smugglers

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. Unfortunately, a neutral reaction on the part of the United States and a resistance on the part of the Israelis demonstrates that 1) the US would rather remove itself from the situation entirely and 2) the Israeli government sees a stronger hand of support for the allied regime is the best option for Israeli security. The Prime Minister’s comments alongside the German Chancellor demonstrate an inflexibility and paranoia lacking strategic forethought.

The Attitude Israelis Worry would Prevail in a New Egyptian Government

While the American approach is more timid, the Israeli approach being applied by Bibi is far more dangerous and far more likely to backfire. The approach Israel might take ought to come out of the playbook of Hafez al-Assad in 1979. Assad congratulated and embraced the revolutionaries, becoming the most important asset for Iran in its efforts to fend off Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.

This seems to be, at the least, a counter-intuitive suggestion. Perhaps it even sounds alarming. However, a democratic Egypt does not have to jeopardize Israeli security Israel’s government, nor change the order of the modern Middle East. Ironically, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt partially motivated Syria’s outreach to the new Iranian regime (the two events happened in the same year). It was Syria’s isolation in the Arab world in 1979 that convinced it seeking a new ally in an unlikely place would be to its benefit.

Here too, there are some similarities. Israel faces regional isolation, thanks to pressure regarding the peace process and the fallout with Turkey, while Egypt’s next government would have to worry about its longstanding relationship with the Western World. Unlike Syria, Israel can offer more than just itself with a refreshed relationship, it can also offer the relationships of the United States and European Union. The unlikely union between Syria’s Baath Party and Iran’s Shiite Islamist Revolution demonstrates alliances of mutual benefit can be created in the most unlikely situations.

Immediately after the collapse of the Pahlavi monarchy, Assad sent a telegram to Ayatollah Khomeini congratulating him on his success. As quoted in the book “Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East:”

“We proclaim our support for the new regime created by the revolution in Iran. This revolution is inspired by the great principles of Islam. The creation of this regime is in the Iranian people’s greatest interest, as well as that of the Arabs and Muslims.”

Months later after the ratification of the new Iranian constitution, Assad repeated the gesture. Iraq’s, Saudi Arabia’s, Jordan’s and Egypt’s reactions were only cautious, perhaps foreshadowing the devastating Iran-Iraq War.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. In turn, this could exert pressure on Hamas and Hizbullah while building further momentum for renewed democratic protests inside Iran.

An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution. In that, trading Mubarak for a revolution in Iran is far worth it. For anyone saying an Iranian revolution today would not matter as much if Egypt were to develop a hostile approach to Israel, they put way too much faith in the Muslim Brotherhood or xenophobia to take over Egypt. An array of other political forces, be they Christians or be they pragmatists, are just as likely to provide standing for a new government.

A new Egypt does not have to jeopardize Israeli security in regards to Hamas or exert undue pressure on the Israelis to negotiate an unfavorable deal with Fatah. To the contrary, Egypt could utilize Israeli offers to help defend a new government against Syrian, Saudi or especially Iranian intelligence efforts to destabilize it. Israel’s lobbying efforts could make a new government’s establishment of relations with the Western world much smoother. The Jewish state can compensate Egypt for any losses it accrues as Nile Basin African states begin to utilize more of the river’s water via its desalinization technology. It may also invite Egypt to resume its mediating role with Palestinians and perhaps entice a moderated Muslim Brotherhood to persuade Hamas to finally abandon its policies of terrorism.

Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. Most importantly, it could serve as the foundation for a new bloc of democratic countries in the region, especially if Iran teeters the way of representative and popular rule. Let the demonstrations in Egypt create an opportunity for Egyptians to openly debate the options of regarding its cold peace with Israel in a way that Mubarak never did. However unlikely these policies would produce positive results immediately, the next few years would likely bear fruit with their implementation.

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