Israel, US hedge their bets amid Egyptian revolution

Alaa Murad , Tuesday 15 Feb 2011

While the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have fostered in some countries a kindred hope and anticipation, others are filled with suspicion and concern

Israel's President Shimon Peres (R) meets with US Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Monday 14 February 2011. (AP)

The Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings that toppled their long embedded regimes have set their countries on a revolutionary path towards 'real' change. Algeria, Jordan and Yemen seem set on following suit, presenting various implications for police state Syria, divided Palestine, monarchic Saudi and unfathomable Libya.

Hosni Mubarak staunchly tended to US regional interests and his ousting has placed the 'superpower' between a rock and a hard place; between having to advocate a sort of idyllic democracy and preserving its dominant discourse in the Middle East.

In addition to the vague emphasis on a democratic path, its rhetoric ranged between "we are monitoring the situation", as voiced on several occasions by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and assistant secretary Philip Crowley, and a stern call for action "now”. 

The US's first action after the downfall of Mubarak was to send a senior military liaison to fretful allies Israel and Jordan. The purpose of the visit, according to the Pentagon, was to discuss "security issues of mutual concern and reassure both these key partners of the US military's commitment to that partnership." 

"The strength of this relationship is something that we both depend on, and it's particularly relevant in these very difficult times," US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen was quoted in AFP as saying prior to a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres earlier this week.

"It is obvious that the change touches on US strategic interests," assistant professor in the AUC's faculty of political science Kareem Kamel says, adding that that the US envoy will probably try to reassure all its allies, of whom Jordan and Israel are prominent.

Israeli and US concerns arise from the possibility of Egypt seeking a more vocal and independent stance in international relations, Kamel explained, one which will be reflected in the country's foreign policy once the dust settles.

Under Mubarak's regime, the country's foreign policy was "very much subject to US foreign policy", as Kamel put it. This strategy was apparent in Egypt's manner of participation in the peace talks.

On multiple occasions, Israel expressed concern over a takeover by Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, a fear the opposition insisted was amplified by the regime and dubbed the "Brotherhood scarecrow".

"It sounds like the Israelis are terrified of what may happen in Egypt," one German diplomat was quoted in Haaretz after meetings with Israeli counterparts two weeks ago. "There is genuine concern about the fate of the peace agreement."

Israel's rhetoric became calmer and milder after the Egyptian military communiqué assured the country's commitment to all international treaties: a direct reference to the 1979 peace treaty, the first of its kind between an Arab nation and the Israeli entity.

"We bless the Egyptian people in anticipation that its desires for freedom and hope be met," Peres was quoted as saying by Israeli daily Haaretz.

After Mubarak's removal, the Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah wrote that it was not the treaty that left Egypt prone to US hegemony as it never dictated partaking in the blockade against Gaza nor collaborating with Israeli intelligence.

It will take a while for Egypt's foreign policy to form a clear shape, but Kamel dismisses the possibility of a strictly anti-US and anti-Israeli approach akin to Iran's. A more moderate yet still independent policy is more likely, perhaps similar to Turkey's, he adds.  

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