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The View From Israel

Officials enter radio silence, watch events to the south anxiously

Marc Tracy
January 31, 2011
Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.(Tomer Appelbaum/AFP/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.(Tomer Appelbaum/AFP/Getty Images)

(Yup, another Egypt post. Stuff’s important!)

Sometimes, during basketball games, the player with the ball will trip and fall, and the player from the opposing team will back away, hands up, facial expression directed at the referee and clearly communicating: “I didn’t do it. Please don’t call a foul.” That defender is Israel right now. “There’s nothing to gain by speaking out,” media consultant Jeremy Ruden writes. “The Arab world might be burning, and it’s our job to keep as far away from the flames as possible.” He concludes: “The best we can hope for is a cold peace. What should we be saying? As little as possible.” This seems to be the prevailing sentiment in Israel: Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered his cabinet into radio silence while privately instructing diplomats to try to get other countries to go easy on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because of the value of the stability he provides. (He also briefly mentioned today that he is concerned of an Islamist takeover: “It happened in Iran.”) This course seems wise, although you could also rebut it: You could say that Israel (and America) have spent 30 years backing Egypt’s unpopular regime, and so they now look barely better to the protesting crowds than the regime itself does.

But make no mistake: An unfriendly, or even less friendly, Egyptian regime would rock Israel’s world like little else. Ethan Bronner of the Times gets the quote: “For the United States, Egypt is the keystone of its Middle East policy,” a senior Israeli official tells him. “For Israel, it’s the whole arch.” His piece‘s prime takeaway: Israel would feel best with Omar Suleiman, or a similarly establishment figure, taking power; a government with a prominent Muslim Brotherhood presence would not definitely lead to the cancellation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, but would require some strategic realignment and radically different strategic planning, as war with Egypt, which for the past 30 years has been a relatively remote possibility, would become far more thinkable. Egyptian troops have been deployed to Sinai to try to prevent the flow of Hamas operatives from Gaza (Hamas is the Palestinian branch of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood), which is something not permitted under the peace treaty; the troops are there only with the explicit permission, and no doubt under the extremely watchful eye, of the Israeli Defense Ministry.

But Israel is a more complex place than just what its government is thinking. Below, a few links that will hopefully give a fuller sense of what the events in Egypt look like to its neighbor to the north.

• Yaakov Katz warns that should the Muslim Brotherhood come to power, the IDF will not only have to take the prospect of war with Egypt more seriously, but worry more about arms smuggling into Gaza and the freer flow of Iranian money and arms. [JPost]

• Influential columnist Aluf Benn assesses that Israel may lose—indeed, may already have lost—its last best friend in the region. [Haaretz]

• Palestinian Authority President Abbas: Pro-Mubarak. Hamas: Anti-Mubarak. Entirely predictable, very useful to know. [JPost]

• Malcolm Hoenlein, the de facto head of institutional American Jewry, called Mohammed ElBaradei, the (formerly?) moderate Egytian opposition leader who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood over the weekend, a “stooge of Iran.” [JTA]

• Here are some people—Democrats and Republicans; much like campaign finance, the Senate resolution was actually co-sponsored by John McCain and Russ Feingold—who warned that Egypt’s lack of democracy was setting it up for something like this. [Laura Rozen]

• Two left-wing Israeli women were right in the streets of Cairo protesting against the regime. Democracy! [Mother Jones]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.