JERUSALEM — Although the unrest in Egypt dominates world news networks, it's hard to sense anything out of the ordinary on the Israeli streets. Of course, unrest in any part of the neighborhood is a cause for concern, but the uprising in Egypt appears to be entirely internal, and people here are happy to see on TV that no Israeli flags are being burned — yet — among the throngs of angry Egyptians in Cairo and Alexandria.
Of course, there is concern that instability in Egypt could lead to instability along the tenuous border it shares with the Gaza Strip. Here, a myriad of tunnels have facilitated smuggling of weapons used against Israel up to and including today, when several rockets and mortars were fired into the South of the country. One such projectile landed near a wedding hall and though there were no casualties, several people were treated for shock.
Fortunately, such attacks have slowed of late, with Gaza's Hamas leadership pledging to reduce tensions and "preserve the calm," though smaller terrorist factions of Gaza continue to pursue their own agendas. Terrorist violence emanating from Palestinian areas has all but ended, because of a combination of coordination with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Israel’s counterterrorism measures undertaken, including the security barrier that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initiated.
Despite such positive developments vis-a-vis the Palestinians, the threat has not disappeared but merely changed in composition.
Today, instead of worrying about relatively minor threats of random terrorist attacks and low-level conflict with Palestinian fighters, the concern is that large-scale conflict could be in the cards. Even the 40,000-plus rockets held by Hezbollah, whose control over Lebanon has grown through the intimidation of that country’s political entities and population, are a relatively minor threat in comparison with a full scale war, the likes of which Israel hasn’t fought since 1973.
|As Egyptians square off to protest, Israelis monitor the situation closely. (Getty Images)
Egypt enters the picture here, having the largest and most capable military force in the region, supplied in large part by the United States through decades of military aid (ironically, resulting from its peace deal with Israel). In the event that a new government hostile to Israel takes power, Israel could face this massive military head on, or deal with an emboldened Hamas, whose activities were largely curtailed under Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
A new Egyptian government, possibly headed by elements influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, father of Hamas and al-Qaida, may turn a blind eye or even offer a helping hand to Israel’s sworn enemy in Gaza. And of course, there is the larger danger that Israel’s peace deal with Egypt could go the way of its author, Anwar Sadat, trampled under the boot of Islamic fundamentalism.
Even if the end result of the unrest is a truly Democratic election in which new Egyptian leaders are chosen with a popular vote, there is concern that it could happen as it did in the Palestinian Authority in 2006, when the populace chose Hamas as its successor. Then, as now, the establishment (Fatah) was seen as corrupt and illegitimate and the alternative (Hamas) was the obvious choice for many impoverished and discouraged citizens.
And so U.S. leaders do their dance atop a fence, not sure whether to embrace the popular uprising or support their long-time ally. Access to the vital Suez Canal hangs in the balance, and the United States stands to lose a great deal economically and strategically if a hostile government emerges from the fires now burning in Cairo.
To many Israelis, it’s another episode in the blunderous story of Barack Obama’s presidency. Just two years ago, Obama stood in Cairo reaching out to the masses that clearly don’t trust or respect such conciliation. From his podium, Obama attempted to place the legitimacy of the Jewish State in the shadow of the Holocaust, thereby ignoring thousands of years of history and struggle of the Jewish people to live in peace in their ancient homeland. No one here seems to be expecting too much from such a creative mind.
Israelis can do little more now than to hope for the best.
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