George Semaan
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
August 22, 2011 - 12:00am

The Arab action has started to cast its shadows over Israel, while the security repercussions of the Eilat operation on the Gaza Strip and the killing of the Egyptian soldiers with the bullets of the Israeli army on the border between the two countries might lead to political repercussions that could make the Hebrew state come face to face with a blunt strategic flaw. In the meantime, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is standing before challenges for which it is not envied. Indeed, it is witnessing a mounting domestic action drawing its inspiration from the storms of change sweeping the region and a political-military conflict within the ruling elite over the defense budget and the expenditures on the settlers. In addition, it is confronting the Palestinian move toward the Security Council next month to ensure the issuance of a resolution to proclaim the establishment of the Palestinian state, and what this step will generate at the level of the relations between the authority and the international community, and between it and the state of the occupation, but also the changes it will induce at the level of the management and the references regulating any negotiations.

For its part, the Egyptian military council is not doing much better than Netanyahu’s government, considering that the summoning by the transitional government in Cairo of the ambassador from Tel Aviv might not be sufficient. True, it is a message of protest and escalation in response to the killing of the Egyptian soldiers, but it will not reach the level of threatening with the discontinuation of the implementation of the Camp David Accord. Moreover, the crowds calling on the council to oust the Israeli ambassador from Cairo are fueling the heated conflict between the military and the transitional government on one hand, and the Islamic and Salafi movements and parties on the other, against the backdrop of the council’s announcement of the fact that the Constitution will stipulate the civil aspect of the state. This is happening at a time when the latter parties and movements stood alongside the military for weeks in the face of the liberal and leftist wing which threatened to stage a revolution against the military council, and called for the departure of its president and the government.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not present an apology. He rather expressed his sorrow over the fall of the Egyptian soldiers, just like it was seen with Turkey following the Marmara incident. At the time, Avigdor Lieberman showed obstinacy and the leader of the Likud went along with him. Israel did not present an apology, did not undertake a transparent investigation and did not offer compensations to the families of the Freedom Flotilla’s victims. Consequently, Israel lost Turkey, as well as close political, security and military ties with a major Islamic country from its surrounding Arab states. So will Netanyahu’s government show arrogance once again and give the Egyptian Street a pretext to increase the pressures on the military council and get it to assume positions it does not wish to adopt?

Israel’s southern border was never safe, not even during the days of Mubarak whose consecutive governments were extremely committed to the prevention of any operations across the border with the Hebrew state, for considerations related to the peace accord and the American aid, but also to the official position toward the extremist Palestinian or Arab fundamentalist movements. But the situation is now different, and this is what Israel has been failing to grasp. In the past, it used to rely on the Egyptian army to protect its border, while the deposed regime used to provide it with guarantees despite the similar incidents that used to be witnessed. It knew very well that Mubarak’s regime mainly counted on the American economic and military aid, and perceived it as being a strong diplomatic dam in the face of the Iranian activities in the region. Moreover, it stood against the aspirations of the fundamentalist movements, namely the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its plans and actions, and offered major support to the Palestinian authority.

All these “privileges” are no longer available following the change seen in Egypt. Therefore, the Hebrew state now gives a lot of importance to the position of the Egyptian Street, a major faction of which called for the ousting of the Israeli ambassador from Cairo although the military council assured since the fall of the former regime that it was insisting on the peace accord and the international agreements, and moved actively to maintain security on the border against the backdrop of the recent incidents.

Israeli circles went very far in conveying their fears following the success of the revolution in Egypt, thus warning against the possible control of the Islamic parties over the authority in Cairo, or at least the prevalence of their opinion over the decision-making circles. This is due to the fact that what Israel fears the most is seeing the Egyptian MB extending a helping hand to the MB in Gaza, which would enhance the inclination of the factions that are holding on to the Strip to turn it into a second “South Lebanon,” by instating a balance of terror in the south after the north.

If Israel shows its usual arrogance and fails to adopt measures to unburden the military council in Cairo, it will risk the adoption of the demand put forward by a wide faction among the revolutionaries to change the nature of the relations with Tel Aviv. It will consequently have to face a critical challenge, which will not be the first in the history of its relations in the region. Indeed, the Iranian revolution afflicted it with a strategic flaw in light of its close ties with the regime of the Shah, while the policy of the Justice and Development Party and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey caused it to suffer a similar strategic setback following the Marmara incident, after the bilateral relations between the two sides on the political, military and security levels used to be quite strong. Therefore, the Eilat operation and the repercussions which accompanied it, might hasten Israel’s search for a new strategy to protect this southern border and the settlements close to the Gaza Strip.

In the meantime, the repercussions of the Palestinian situation, the action in Syria and the changes witnessed in Lebanon following the governmental change and the issuance of the indictment into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, are equally dangerous to the Israeli strategy. Maybe Hamas did not carry out the Eilat operation, unless it resorted to the method of the late Yasser Arafat who used to assign or facilitate the staging of qualitative operations by some Palestinian factions whenever he felt that political stalemate was weakening him. Still, what is mostly important is that the soothing operation led by Cairo did not generate a categorical commitment to the truce that has been in place for a long time.

And if the Eilat operation aimed at serving a regional goal related to the “rejectionist alliance” and what it is facing in terms of challenges in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, Hamas which is witnessing the obstruction of reconciliation with the authority and Fatah might find itself forced to engage in a conflict sought by more than one side. Indeed, Hezbollah is not concealing its tensions vis-à-vis the course of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, although the party is controlling the governmental situation on the political level after it controlled the security situation. As for Syria, which is being besieged by a suffocating isolation in light of its inability to settle the domestic action, it tried – over two months ago – to give the impression that the situation on its border with Israel could change. But it will not succeed. As for Iran, it is dissatisfied with the undermining of everything it has earned and built in the last couple of decades, while Israel is facing – in addition to the internal challenges – the fear surrounding the diplomatic campaign which will be led by the authority to propose the proclamation of the state at the Security Council next month.

Furthermore, some Israeli officials are aware of the fact that the continuation of the Arab action in more than one country while accompanied by military confrontations and mounting civil war projects is ringing the alarm bells among the superpowers. Consequently, these states, at the head of which are the United States and the European Union, might pressure the Hebrew state into offering the required concessions to ensure an acceptable settlement for the Palestinian cause based on the proclamation of the state of Palestine. And the Palestinian authority’s move toward the Security Council next month to see the adoption of such a proclamation, will constitute a test for the extent of the advancement of the international positions toward the Palestinian cause.

Did Western circles go overboard in linking a series of events witnessed in the region, from the mysterious Antelias explosion in the eastern part of Beirut to the series of explosions in Iraq and the Eilat operation? Were they not a clear response to the indictment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the decision to increase the isolation of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and did they not aim at confusing Baghdad and the Iraqi authority which is trying to extend the stay of the American troops in Iraq, or even to get it to show more stringency in the face of its opponents who are receiving support from Washington, Ankara and many Arab capitals?


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