Israel's Neighborhood Watch

Egypt's Upheaval Means that Palestine Must Wait

Until a decade ago, every Israeli government, left and right, was committed to a security doctrine that precluded the establishment of potential bases of terrorism on Israel’s borders.

That doctrine has since unraveled. In May 2000, Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon led to the formation of a Hezbollah-dominated region on Israel’s northern border. Then, in August 2005, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza led to the rise of Hamas on Israel’s southern border.

As a result, two enclaves controlled by Islamist movements now possess the ability to launch missile attacks against any population center in Israel. And Iran, through its proxies, is now effectively pressing against Israel's borders.

For Israel's policymakers, the nightmare scenario of the recent Egyptian upheaval is that Islamists will eventually assume control -- either peacefully, as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) did in Turkey, or violently, as the clerics did in Iran. Such a turn of events would bring to power an anti-Semitic movement that is committed to ending Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state. “This could be the beginning of a 1948 moment,” a senior Israeli official told me, meaning that Israel could eventually face a multifront war against overwhelming odds.

Until now, the Muslim Brotherhood has faced a sworn enemy in the Mubarak regime. But if it were to take control in Egypt, then Hamas, the Brotherhood's descendant within the Palestinian national movement, would suddenly have an ally in Cairo. Hamas has significance for the Arab world: it is the first Sunni Islamist movement to align with Shiite Iran. So far, Hamas has been an aberration in this regard. But it could be a harbinger of an Egyptian-Iranian alliance that would create an almost complete encirclement of Israel by Iranian allies or proxies.

Even a relatively more benign outcome -- such as the Turkish model of incremental Islamist control, with the government maintaining ties to the West -- would mean the end of Israel’s sense of security along its long southern border. And this uncertainty will certainly adversely affect the Israeli public’s willingness to relinquish the West Bank anytime soon.

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