According to some Israeli strategic thinkers, “darkness” has descended with the victory of the Islamist current in Egypt’s presidential race, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem…
Palestinians wave green Islamic flags that represent Hamas and the Egyptian national flag as they celebrate the victory of Mohamed Mursi in the Egyptian presidential elections, in Gaza City on Sunday
Despite Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic remarks, the Israeli media reacted to the victory of president-elect Mohamed Mursi gloomily, mournfully and sometimes hysterically.
Netanyahu said Israel respected the democratic process in Egypt, calling on President Mursi to maintain the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
Israel expects continued cooperation with the [new] Egyptian administration on the peace accord between the two countries, which is in the interest of the two peoples and contributes to regional stability,” read a terse statement issued by Netanyahu’s office.
As of now, Netanyahu has not sent a formal letter of congratulation to the new Egyptian leader.
Other Israeli officials sought to reassure Israelis, arguing that Mursi’s powers would be diluted by the Egyptian military and that his time and energy would be devoted to Egypt’s internal and economic problems, not to Palestinian affairs.
Nonetheless, prominent Israeli commentators almost unanimously caricatured a depressive image of relations between Israel and Egypt under Mursi, with the main headline of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper reading “Darkness in Egypt”.
Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Ynet, the English-language website of Yediot Aharonot, noted that for the first time in Egypt’s history, the country’s government adhered to what he called “blatant religious ideology”.
He dutifully ignored the fact that the current Israeli government is essentially a government of rightwing and Talmudic parties whose extremism, racism and fascism make the Islamists of Egypt look extremely moderate in comparison.
Yishai took note of the fact that Mursi was the first Egyptian president to be elected in truly democratic elections, adding that the era of secular colonels who ruled Egypt since the 1950s was over.
However, he argued that an Islamist-ideological regime, as moderate as it may be and even if it didn’t impose Islamic law on Egypt, would be hostile to Israel based on its very nature and worldview.
In addition to highlighting the so-called “terror threat”, Yishai invoked the “danger” posed by the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood to the helm of power in the most important and populous Arab country.
Hence, Egypt’s Islamicisation constitutes a very negative harbinger for secular regimes that rely on the army, not only in Lebanon and Syria, but also in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.”
Another prominent commentator, Samadar Peri, wrote that Mursi’s victory was a dangerous development for Israel.
From our standpoint, when the presidential palace in Cairo is painted for the first time in Islamic colours, this is a black day for Israel.”
Another columnist, Alex Fishman, opined that Mursi’s victory meant that everything was open and that the future was unclear.
Israel should be prepared for every eventuality, evoking the possibility of an Islamist intelligence minister, a re-examination of the peace treaty, a collapse of the economic agreement and lack of security coordination.”
The Hebrew daily, Maariv, lamented that in the new Middle East,
the fear has become reality, and the Muslim Brotherhood are in power in Egypt.”
To be sure, most Israelis are not really worried about an immediate worsening of relations with Egypt, calculating that the new Egyptian leadership will be preoccupied with domestic affairs. This gives Israeli military leaders sufficient time to draw “contingency plans” and scenarios in order to “meet all possibilities”.
And while Israel is not worried about the possibility of war, at least in the immediate and foreseeable future, Tel Aviv is concerned with the change and how to respond.
“What happens, for example, if in a year from now Mursi gives the military an order to move a division to the Sinai Peninsula for training. This would be a violation of the peace treaty, but would Israel go to war in such a case? Probably not,” wrote Yaccov Kats in the English language daily The Jerusalem Post.
Kats pointed out that Mursi’s victory would hinder Israel’s operational freedom the next time there is a flare up with Hamas, saying that air strikes in Gaza would quickly lead to a crisis with Cairo.
There is no doubt that Israel views the collapse of the Mubarak regime as a great political calamity. Indeed, the ascendancy to power in Cairo of an Islamist president must be even a greater calamity for Israeli leaders and strategic planners.
According to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Israel is mostly worried about the likelihood that the new Egyptian leadership will link its commitment to the Camp David Accords to Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians.
That would pose a real dilemma to Israel. On the one hand, Israel views stable relations with Egypt as a strategic asset. On the other hand, Israel cannot appear soft on the Palestinians, especially Hamas,” one Western diplomat told Al-Ahram Weekly.
In its 65 years of existence, Israel relied on two main pillars in pursuing territorial aggrandisement and defeating actual and potential enemies. First, securing and guaranteeing constant US political, economic and especially military backing, which gave Israel a qualitative military edge over all Arab adversaries combined.
The second pillar was courting and neutralising Arab dictators who proved highly effective in pacifying their own masses. Now, that Israel is beginning to lose the second pillar, alarm bells are sounding in the chambers of Israeli strategic planning.
Israel’s lugubrious reactions to Mursi’s win have been contrasted by almost euphoric and spontaneous celebrations by Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, was seen holding a picture of Mursi aloft. And as night fell, popular rallies and marches were held all over the coastal enclave. Islamist speakers hailed Mursi’s victory as a victory for Egypt, Palestine and the entire Arab world, as well as for all free men and women in the world.
In contrast, Fatah’s reactions have been generally circumspect, lacking the enthusiasm characterising reactions by Islamists.
Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas has congratulated Mursi in a formal letter. However, it is widely thought that Fatah is worried that Egypt under Mursi will be closer to its rival, Hamas, a fear downplayed by the new Egyptian leadership.