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How Egypt's Revolt Challenges Israel

By Lawrence Davidson
February 16, 2011

Editor’s Note: For three decades, Israel’s leaders have relied on a combination of an acquiescent Washington and corrupt autocrats in key Arab states, particularly Egypt and Jordan, to maintain a policy of West Bank expansion and repression of Palestinians.

Now, that status quo is cracking with a popular uprising in Egypt and seismic shocks spreading through the Middle East, confronting Israel with a new reality that requires flexibility from its own rigid elites, as Lawrence Davidson describes in this guest essay:

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently traveled to Israel and Jordan to assure these two "partners" of the steadfast nature of U.S. loyalty.

An aide to Mullen put it this way: "at this critical time in the Middle East [Admiral Mullen] wants to reassure our ... partners ... that the military relationship we have enjoyed with them remains strong."

"Enjoy" is actually a strange word to use here. The Israelis regularly violate U.S. law by using American weapons against Palestinian civilians and have on occasion sold U.S. military equipment and information to less than friendly third parties.

The Jordanians are significant to Washington only to the extent that they keep Israel’s eastern border quiet while the Zionists ravage the West Bank. So, what’s to enjoy?
Just before his Feb. 14 meeting with the Israeli President Shimon Peres, Mullen noted that "the connection and relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces goes back decades." The implication here is that this history makes the relationship a strong and lasting one.

That probably did not reassure the Israelis very much, for they are shocked at how readily Washington dropped its support for Hosni Mubarak after a "connection and relationship" that went back 30 years. Actually, that reversal on the part of Washington is a fine and sobering lesson for the rulers in Jerusalem. Nothing lasts forever.

The odds are good that in, say the next three decades, U.S. readiness to drop support of Zionist apartheid might be politically feasible, maybe even probable.
Nonetheless, Peres hid the anxiety that reportedly pervades the Israeli elites, and told Mullen, "for us, the U.S. is the best friend we have. ... The greatness of the U.S. is that you draw strength from giving and not from taking."

What an odd but revealing thing to say! The truth is that with just a few exceptions, such as the right-wing minority government in power in Canada, the U.S. is just about the only devoted friend Israel has.

On the other hand, Peres hit the nail on the head about the U.S. giving rather than taking. Washington gives modern, developed, high-tech Israel more "foreign aid" than any other country. The U.S. gives Israel billions of dollars in aid even as the needs of the American people go unfulfilled and the U.S. debt grows ever greater.

And, as Peres points out, the U.S. gets almost nothing from Israel. If the truth be known, Israel as a "strategic asset" is greatly overblown. Indeed, Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians has given al-Qaeda a useful pitch for recruiting more terrorists.
The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reports that the Israelis are particularly worried that any new Egyptian regime will scrap the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries. Yet, as much as some of the leaders of the protest movement in Egypt would like to do this, there is almost no chance of it happening.

No sane Egyptian wants another war with Israel and the present survival of the Egyptian army depends mainly on U.S. subsidies. If Obama vetoed the Egyptian army turning its American guns on its own people, he will hardly approve of its shooting those same guns at the Israelis.

Ex-IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi had it right when he said "peace is a strategic asset" for Egypt. However, public pressure may very well lead to the normalizing of the Gaza border and collapse or at least weakening of Israel’s blockade of 1.6 million Palestinians.

That will make the Israelis testy enough, raising to a greater volume their lament about terrorists getting weapons along with enough food to raise the Gazan calorie consumption above the malnutrition level.
Regardless of Admiral Mullen’s reassurances, realistic leaders with smart advisers work on the premise that things inevitably change and you need to prepare for reasonable contingencies. If Israel’s leaders want to know what their reasonable contingencies might be, they should consult the prognostications of one of their own moderates, Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation.

In a Feb. 13 article, Levy, a former senior Israeli official on Palestinian affairs, told the Israelis they can expect the eventual end of the closure of Gaza, the tamping down of Egyptian belligerency toward Iran, and no more Egyptian support of the faltering "peace process."

Nor will Egypt be turning a blind eye to Israel’s illegal colonization process on the West Bank. While Egypt won’t express any of this in saber-rattling way, its diplomats around the world and at the UN will soon adjust their voice to a wholly new tune.
The sad thing is that Israel has almost no capacity to positively adjust to any of these changes, much less meet them half way for the sake of real peace. They do not have the eyes to see the new truths in front of them because Israeli foreign policy does not reference foreign reality.

Rather Israeli foreign policy is an expression of domestic pressures and ambitions, and those have long been shaped by a driving sense of manifest destiny that has countenanced the theft and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land.

The same situation exists in Washington. U.S. foreign policy only rarely references foreign reality. Perhaps President Obama’s instruction to the Egyptian generals not to kill their own people with American weapons was one of those rare moments.

However, Admiral Mullen’s quick trip to Israel was a sure sign that business had returned to normal and the U.S. was back to shaping its foreign policy to the demands of Washington’s powerful Zionist lobby.
Each of us perceives the world from our own "domestic" perspective. Yet success is most often a function of how close our actions coincide with the reality outside of us, in that complex world, both natural and human, over which we have no assured control.

To act successfully in the world we must be able to look beyond the domestic blinders and see the foreign reality that surrounds us. You might have noticed that Hosni Mubarak could not do this.

Some day the Israeli elites, bound as they are to their myopic ideology, might share a similar fate.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest; America's Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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