Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice


By Ira Sharkansky

Chaos in Syria and now in Egypt, with instability in Lebanon increasing as Hezbollah is deeply involved in Syria. Hamas in Gaza is most likely planning its response to the problems of its patron in Egypt. Jordan’s king may be even more worried than usual about threats to his regime, and who knows what is going through the minds of the Palestinians in the West Bank who are close to their government or waiting for an opportunity to take over their government.

Is all this good for the Jews?

In the short run, we don’t have to worry about strong Arab armies joining together in order to solve their Zionist problem. Even Iranians may be spending less energy planning their next action against Israel than worrying about their own position in a roiling sea of Muslim regimes where their political and military investments are insecure. Hezbollah and Hamas have more than enough missiles to make our lives miserable, but Hezbollah is busy in Syria and Hamas is likely to be preoccupied with Egypt. Moreover, Israel has more than enough to make their lives more than miserable should the need arise.

There is a wide range of assessments associated with the latest hot spot in Egypt.

A return to the strong governments under the control of generals and opposed to Islamist extremism, seen from Nasser through Sadat and to the end of the Mubarak regime.

The army and its secular government (perhaps figureheads for generals who are really in charge) will maintain the peace treaty with Israel and the US aid that comes along with it; Israeli commentators--some of them retired generals--have been saying that while Morsi was more cooperative in practice than in his rhetoric, it will be even easier talking with the new-old regime led by senior military personnel.

Against this optimism is a view that it will be impossible for the army to quell an uprising led by the Moslem Brotherhood, which may have 30 million supporters out of the country’s total of more than 80 million.

Poverty rather than religion or ideology may have been the moving force behind the anti-Morsi demonstrations. However, the army and its civilian allies will not be able to supply what is lacking in the economy, especially with tourism unlikely to rebound any time soon, and poverty may spur a continued series of demonstrations with the Islamic element assuring violent confrontations between demonstrators and soldiers.

The soldiers come from the people, and will not be a reliable force over time when used against them. Unlike Syria, there are not ethnic and religious divides between army units and the mass of the population.

The Bedouin of the Sinai are inclined toward the Muslim Brotherhood, and will provoke wider problems for the military-based regime by attacks against Israel. Israel cannot respond against Sinai targets without threatening the peace treaty with Egypt. Relations with that country have not been ideal, but the lack of an Egyptian military threat has been at the heart of Israeli strategic thinking for more than three decades.

Poverty in Egypt may produce a mass march toward the Israeli border by people hungry for food and work, perhaps also motivated by Islamic desires to destroy the Jewish state.

Against this scenario are commentators who scoff at the prospect of an unorganized mass without logistical support walking across 100 miles of desert. If such a trek would begin, there would be ample warning for Israeli forces to organize non-lethal crowd control with even more forceful responses in reserve.

Take your pick from the above, and keep your eye on the news. The most recent reports are of mass demonstrations by Morsi supporters against the military and demanding a return of the Morsi government, along with mass demonstrations against Morsi supporters, with numerous deaths. It is not the same story as in Syria, where there are ethnic as well as religious motivations, heavy weapons used against civilian concentrations, and numerous outsiders involved in an all out civil war where some anti-regime forces are fighting among themselves. Yet it is not a time to be certain about what has happened or what is happening, much less what will happen in Egypt.

It is difficult to name the good guys, or even who is on top, in what has developed to date from Arab spring.

One might see recent events in Egypt as the onset of a counter revolution against the ascendance of Muslim extremism, but there remains some doubt as to how extreme was the Morsi government.

The army has moved against the Muslim Brotherhood, but is still a long way from pacifying the country and addressing  popular demands.

Could such a counter revolution spread to Turkey, where the military has a history of being the guardians of a secular state, but where secular officers have been neutralized by the current Islamic government? Morsi seems to have tried the same in Egypt, with the results we are not seeing.

Russia has been the champion of the status quo in Syria, where the Assads have a history of opposing Islamic extremists, but the current Assad is getting considerable aid from the Islamic extremists of Iran and Hezbollah.

The US government appears to be at sea, torn between praiseworthy sentiments in support of democracy, an insistence that Islam is not a problem, action against figures who themselves opposed Islamic extremism (Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, Hosni Mubarak), and its own crusade against Islamic extremism.

A leaked document purporting to explain John Kerry’s persistence in pushing the Palestinians and Israelis toward discussions concedes the lack of American leadership in the mostly chaotic Middle East. Kerry’s purpose is to assert American leadership in the one place where it may produce something.

The report indicates American pressure on Israel to release prisoners, and to freeze settlements outside of the major blocs and perhaps elsewhere. It promises considerable financial aid to Palestine, but may not demand anything of the Palestinians other than to participate in talks.

If Kerry succeeds, it may be good for his place in history, as well as adding a feather to the cap of Barack Obama. But will it also be good for Israel?

The Israeli Prime Minister appears to be responding with “yes, but.” He is going along with the American initiative, but insisting on conditions that the Palestinian leadership will have difficulty accepting.

If there is anyone out there still kvelling over Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, insisting that he has no responsibility for the nastiness that came after it, and believing that Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and the Gulf States are on the road to democracy, I can recommend looking at this example of how others see the Nobel laureate.


The clip is more funny than profound, but raises as clear as anything the question about the emperor’s clothes.

Ira Sharkansky is professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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