The Egyptian government is cultivating the events and Israel is immediately reaping the benefits. As soon as the Court of Urgent Matters in Cairo decided to ban Hamas activities, the news was echoed immediately in Tel Aviv. The head of the ruling coalition in the Knesset, Likud MP Yoram Levin, said that the Egyptian court’s ruling is a precedent which Israel should follow in its dealings with all Hamas supporters within Israeli itself.
Speaking on Channel 1 TV earlier this month, he said that Israel must change its legal system in order to fight its enemies exactly as the Egyptian authorities are doing. According to Levin, the representatives of Israel’s Palestinian citizens (one-fifth of the population) should be prevented from expressing their national aspirations.
The MP attacked the Israeli legal system, mainly the supreme court which has ruled on the illegitimacy of some laws which aim to fight the “1948 Palestinian” elites; the court has said that such laws “violate human rights”. Levin called for learning from the experience of the Egyptian legal system in finding “legal obstacles that shrink the legal system in the face of terror”.
Levin’s statements came hours after Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman called on his Facebook page for the expulsion of Palestinian MPs from the Knesset. The extreme right-winger believes that they represent Hamas, despite the fact that most of them represent sectarian and communist parties. Lieberman vowed to work towards an end to political representation for Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
One Arab MP, Jamal Zahalqa, responded to the statements of Lieberman and Levin by pointing out, “We’re the people of this land, and our presence here is natural, while Lieberman and Levin are the ones who came from outside the borders.” In a statement to the same TV channel, Zahalqa addressed Lieberman directly: “You came from Russia and you can go back there, where you won’t see the Arabs you hate so much.”
In the same context, the Arab affairs commentator in Haaretz newspaper, Zvi Bar’el, said that he expected the Egyptian court decision to lead to the law being changed so that Hamas as a movement is declared to be a “terrorist” organisation, not just its activities, which will shake the legitimacy of the movement in Egypt. In an article published in Haaretz on 3 March, Bar’el said that the decision reflects the nadir in relations between the Egyptian government and Hamas. No members of the movement will be allowed to enter Egypt if it is declared to be a terrorist organisation, he noted.
The Israeli commentator stressed that the blockade imposed by the Egyptian army on the Gaza Strip complements the siege imposed by Israel, noting that the Rafah crossing is only opened for three days in every two weeks. In addition, Egypt no longer allows solidarity groups to pass through en route to Gaza and the government is keen on destroying the tunnels used to take goods and money to the Strip.
There have been too many reactions to the decision in different Israeli media outlets, and I do not have space to mention them all. Although they’re not that far from the ideas I have mentioned before, four points have attracted my attention.
- Former Defence Minister Moshe Arens said that the war being waged by Egypt on Hamas diminishes the need for Israel to launch a war on Gaza in the future.
- Himaren Meir, the Arab affairs correspondent for Ghali Tsahal Radio, said that the decision to ban Hamas indicates that the Egyptian leadership will succeed in doing what others, including the State of Israel, have failed to do.
- On 8 March, Haaretz quoted an anonymous member of the Strategic Research Centre in Cairo as saying that the ruling regime in Egypt would not oppose any operation that would target Hamas or the resistance movement in Gaza.
- The political correspondent for Channel Two, Uri Siege, revealed that President Obama assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their last meeting in Washington that the developments that have taken place in Egypt since the isolation of Dr Mohamed Morsi are in favour of Israel. In a report presented by the same channel on 4 March, Siegel, who accompanied Netanyahu to the US, pointed out that the two men had agreed to support the existing power in Egypt in the face of “extremist forces”.
The Saudi Arabian decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation improves the strategic environment for Israel in an unprecedented way. This was said by former head of Military Intelligence General Amos Padlin. During his participation in a programme on Channel 1 on Friday 7 March, Padlin added that the Saudi step is a fundamental decision that opens the door wide towards “extremely positive” shifts in clamping down on parties that represent a threat to Israel.
General Padlin now heads the Israeli National Security Research Centre. He added that the Saudi decision confirms the Kingdom’s determination to support the de facto government in Egypt, and its commitment to providing conditions that will ensure its survival post-presidential election. This, he said, represents a strategic interest of the highest order for Israel.
In the same context, Dori Gold, a top political adviser to Netanyahu, welcomed the Saudi decision. In an interview broadcast on Hebrew Radio he predicted that the decision would result in the intensification of the blockade on the Palestinian resistance, especially in Gaza, by cutting off its access to funds.
“Although Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have come a long way in restricting the transfer of funds from the Gulf to the Gaza Strip,” said Gold, “we hope that this latest decision can lead to closing down all channels of finance.”
Such steps by Riyadh against the resistance in the Gaza Strip complement the procedure taken by the authorities in Egypt, added Gold. The ending of Saudi support, he believes, will strike a powerful blow to the resistance movement.
At a time that Israeli elites are celebrating the changes taking place in the Arab world, other voices have called for caution. Military commentator Amir Rabiort wrote in Maariv newspaper on 7 March that an intelligence source described as “big” warned against relying on the Arab transformations in favour of the Israeli state. The Arab world is witnessing drastic shifts, he said, which used to take years and decades but are now happening in days and even hours. Israel should not rely on such Middle East quicksand, said the source. The situation could turn against the regimes yet again, and thus Israel, in record time. While he called his country to be vigilant and cautious, he called on it to prepare necessary plans to face all possible scenarios.
Will interests be able to bridge the gap between Israel and Saudi Arabia? This question was the headline for an article published in Israel Today newspaper in December. The importance of this article lies not only in its content but also in having been written by the aforementioned Dori Gold. I have received a translation of the article from Saleh Alna’ami, an expert on Israeli affairs.
In addition to his own analysis, Gold used the testimony of Bruce Riedel, a CIA Middle East expert, in which he said that interests have sometimes put Israel and Saudi Arabia in one box. He supported his argument with the example of what happened when the Egyptian army was in Yemen to support the revolution against the Imamate regime loyalists, backed by Saudi Arabia. The then Saudi intelligence chief, Kamal Adham, contacted the Israelis, following which Israeli aircraft transported equipment and aid to those loyal to the Imamate between 1964 and 1966.
The writer kept track of what he described as the pragmatism of Saudi Arabia in dealing with Israel, in the fatwas (religious opinions) of Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, for example, who allowed reconciliation with Israel if it is in the interests of the Muslims.
He also noted the Saudi policy shifts post-9/11 up to its position on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Iranian revolution, where the two countries realised that they stood on the same side.
A report published in the Hebrew edition of the Jerusalem Post on 3 January revealed details of the role of the Saudi ambassador in Washington in weaving secret relations with Tel Aviv. The article was written by intelligence issues and national security affairs specialist Yossi Melman. He talked about the secret meetings held by Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir with leaders of Jewish organisations in Washington.
The close relationship between Al-Jubeir and the pro-Israel US Jewish leadership reflects the substantial closeness which has developed recently between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The report pointed out that this closeness is reflected in passing messages, coordination and intensive meetings between executive level officials in both Tel Aviv and Riyadh. These encounters have become the norm in a tradition established by former Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who is still connected intimately with leaders of Jewish organisations in the United States.
Melman observed that Ambassador Al-Jubeir started directing public criticism of the policy of President Obama in his meetings with the Jewish leaders and that such criticisms are received warmly by Benjamin Netanyahu’s circle of contacts, not least because the Israeli government would not dare say such things due to their sharp and undiplomatic nature. The journalist said that he can tell from the words of the Saudi ambassador that the government in Riyadh feels “betrayed” by the US rapprochement with Iran and Washington’s reluctance to support former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during the January 26 Revolution.
This is just some of the background to the political hurricane looming in the Middle East. It all suggests that the region is entering a new phase in which previous priorities sink and chaos spreads in the drive to dismantle the Arab world and remove all traces of the Arab Spring revolutions. Those states which were hostile towards the revolutions from their very first moments are the same as those driving the current shifts. Where are we going? Watch this space.
Translated from Al Jazeera net, 11 March, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.