Israel in the New Middle East

In mid-December 2010, a notoriously unstable part of the world erupted into chaos. Throughout the Middle East, protestors took to the streets demanding democratic reform and the end of dictatorial regimes. Every country in the region from Algeria to Iran has been affected by this movement in some way, and near the geographic center of this sea of change is a country that is negatively viewed by a majority of the mid-east population: Israel.

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In August of 2011, while the Arab Spring was in full swing, Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki warned that, “Zionists and Israel are the first and biggest beneficiaries of this whole process,”(Schmidt, 2011). Though the Arab Spring presented an opportunity for Islamists to move into political spaces that had, until that point, been closed to them, the changes also reflect an opportunity that Israel and other countries could take advantage of to advance peace in the region.  Joseph Szyliowicz, a professor of International Studies at the University of Denver and Sigurd Neubaur, a defense and foreign affairs specialist out of D.C. expressed the view that the Arab Spring presents an opportunity for closer diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey; two of the few nations in the region that were not rocked with protests and upheaval. They argue that closer ties would be mutually beneficial due to an increased support-base for Israel and increased international sway for Turkey (Szyliowicz & Neubauer, 2013). It is possible that what Szyliowicz and Neubaur predict could happen in Turkey might also happen with other countries in the region. Though some of the democratic movements in the region have resulted in Islamist leadership, these groups are at least moderated by the fact that they are largely pro-democracy, such as Tunisia’s al-Nahda party (Al Jazeera, 2011). Where Israel is one of the few truly democratic countries in the region, there are questions of whether democratically elected Islamists will be more pro-Israel.

Egypt is an important example. The central target of the protests that took place in Egypt seemed to be Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader, rather than Israel. However, the changes in Egypt could prove very negative to Israeli influences. Before his removal, Mubarak was a counter to Iranian influence in the Middle East as well as a nearly unconditional ally of the United States and Israel (Flamini, 2011 pp. 216) Now, Mubarak has been replaced by a largely conservative-led government with Mohamed Morsi at the helm and the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood (Kirkpatrick, 2013). This is significant to Israel because the Muslim Brotherhood is made up of Islamists who are generally opposed to Israel’s existence. In 2012 during a short conflict between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian leadership was put in a tight spot between their treaty obligations to Israel, such as the 1979 peace treaty, and the Brotherhood’s ideological connection and support with Hamas (Fleishman & Abdellatif, 2012). Though Egypt eventually filled the role of mediator during the conflict, it is uncertain where it will stand in future Arab-Israeli conflicts.

That said, there have been important indicators of the power of anti-Israeli groups since revolutions and government overthrows have taken place. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government is still having trouble executing on its own agenda due to internal pushback (Kirkpatrick, 2013). In Jordan, on Wednesday January 23, elections are to be held with Islamists largely sitting out the election. Of 1,400 people running for seats in the Jordanian government; only 22 are Islamist (Luck, 2013). With Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu poised to win a third term in the coming elections (Aly, 2013), and all the changes that have been going on in the Arab world, it could be argued that the only thing holding Israel back from peace with its Arab neighbors could be the far-right ruling party of Israel itself.

As the fallout from the Arab Spring continues to impact the Middle East, Israel’s certainty of safety could change dramatically for good or ill. For the time being, evidence suggests that the Arab Spring has not negatively impacted Israel yet, and that there is a possibility of progress toward peace in the Middle East if the new governments in the region are willing to talk to the older governments in the region.

Sources Cited

Aly, B. (2013, January 21) On Eve of Israeli Elections, Arab Spring’s Influence Still Uncertain. AhramOnline [online] retrieved January 22, 2013 from http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/62967/World/Region/On-eve-of-Israeli-elections,-Arab-Springs-influenc.aspx

Fleishman, J. & Abdellatif, R. (2012, November 14) Israel’s killing of Hamas military chief leaves Egypt in Quandary. LA Times [online] retrieved Janaury 22, 2013 from http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-israel-hamas-egypt-quandary-20121114,0,5883238.story

Kirkpatrick, D. (2013, January 19) Brotherhood Struggles to Translate Power Into Policy in Egypt. The New York Times [online] retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/world/middleeast/brotherhood-struggles-to-exert-political-power-in-egypt.html?pagewanted=all

Luck, T. (2013, January 20) Islamists to sit out Jordanian election. The Washington Post [online] retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/islamists-to-sit-out-jordanian-election/2013/01/19/c78b61e4-6194-11e2-b05a-605528f6b712_story.html

N/A (2011, March 1) Tunisia’s al-Nahda to form party. Al Jazeera. [online] retrieved January 22, 2013 from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/201131132812266381.html

Schmidt, M. (2011, August 18) Iraq Leader Says the Arab Spring Benefits Israel. The New York Times [online] retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/19/world/middleeast/19iraq.html?_r=0

Szyliowicz, J. & Neubauer, S. (2013, Janaury 21) A New Era for the Eastern Mediterranean? CNN.com [online] retrieved January 22, 2013 from http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/21/a-new-era-for-the-eastern-mediterranean/?iref=allsearch

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