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Arab revolutions through Israeli eyes

Israeli researchers have been preoccupied from the very first days of the Arab revolutions to analyse the possible consequences for Israel; the Israeli establishment has not disguised its fear of the revolutions' success. Perhaps the most important conference to discuss the revolutions was that organised by the Israeli National Security Research Institute in January; headed "Arab spring – a year has passed – a look at the future", its importance was reflected by the wide participation of specialised and strategic researchers, as well as Israeli military leaders and decision-makers.


It is interesting that the transmission of power from Arab dictatorships to the Arab people is viewed by the Israeli establishment as a strategic threat to the Zionist state. As the new reality of Arab democracy emerged it brought with it promises of a brighter future for people who have made huge sacrifices throughout the decades of Israel's occupation of Arab land. The rise of Islamic parties in many Arab countries, particularly Egypt, concerns the leadership in Israel, especially as some of those groups reject in principle the idea of a "Jewish state" and formal agreements with it.

Israel in the eye of the storm

In his lecture delivered at the aforementioned conference, Israeli researcher Ehud Yaari spoke about "The Muslim Brotherhood and Israel": he pointed out that what happened in the Arab countries is "not only a hurricane, but a large cloud across the Middle East", with Islamists gaining power without advance planning. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in elections in Egypt will put before them many dilemmas, he claimed. And the magnitude of what happened in the Arab countries is such that Arabs began to feel like citizens for the first time; "the Arab people began to feel their strength due to the Tahrir Square effect". He concluded that Muslims are uniting against Israel.

Dr. Oded Eran spoke on "peace agreements in crisis" at the same conference and said that the peace agreements signed with Arab countries face major challenges following the political changes and the rise of Islamists to power. He pointed out that without a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, being the basic issue, there can be no solution to conflict in the wider region.

It could be said that what the head of the National Security Research institute, Major General (res.) Amos Yadlin, said during the opening speech of the conference represents a summary of the Israeli establishment's view of the Arab revolutions: the Arab awakening "is not confined to spring, but rather all seasons, with many different variables".

What was remarkable about Yadlin's speech is that he claimed that the Arab revolutions have no leader; they are revolutions without leaders, and thus they have no specified ideology. He questioned the source of their power: was it under the slogan of "the people want so and so"? Or was it "God and His Prophet" who are the source of this power? This is the most important dimension for the Arab revolutions.

Arab spring between profit and loss

The Israeli media and various conferences have concluded that the biggest losers are the tens of thousands of Arabs who were killed during protests in the Arab world, as well as Arab economies; the economic crisis has got worse over the year of the Arab revolutions. The winner, however, is political Islam, gaining control in Tunisia and Egypt in the first instance. Researcher Mark Heller believes that young Arabs have lost out because of their lack of organisation; when the regimes fell, they could not compete with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and its institutions.

Most Israeli strategists see the Arab revolutions stretching beyond 2012, bringing with them more challenges for Israelis, as well as negative consequences, especially with the steady rise to power of Islamists. Many analysts say that existing Arab-Israeli Agreements, in particular the Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel, are under threat, including the Oslo Accords and the Wadi Araba agreement.

Arab revolutions and their regional dimension

The positions of Iran and Turkey have also been under the spotlight of the Israeli media. Both countries have been seeking to make inroads into the Arab world's new political realities.

Israeli Professor Ofra Banjo has pointed out that Turkey has made considerable gains from the changes in the Middle East. She emphasised that the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, as well as Turkey's stand against Operation Cast Lead, boosted Ankara and gave it an important position in the Arab world, paving the way for the development of economic and other links.

Indeed, according to Prof. Banjo, many in the Arab world now view Turkey as a political model to be followed post-revolution. This trend has been reinforced by the increasing popularity of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Freedom Squares, helped by the fact that he backed the Palestinians, especially during Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009.

As far as Iran is concerned, many Israeli researchers believe that it has lost ground during the Arab Spring to the extent that despite Tehran's satisfaction at the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime, it has not yet normalised relations with Egypt. However, says Professor Meir Litvack, head of Iranian studies at the University of Tel Aviv, Iran is banking on the growing hostility of the Egyptian people towards Israel and the future possibilities that may arise therefrom. Nevertheless, Litvack adds, there is a decline in Iran's popularity in the Arab region due to the widening gulf between Sunnis and Shiites.

It remains to note that huge changes in the Middle East are ongoing and the Arab people will be the beneficiaries of an end to dictatorships and their bondage with Israel. Greater balance in Arab states' relationships with countries across the world will emerge, and that has to be good for all concerned.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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