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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dealing with the New Middle East

Here are some lessons that Israeli policymakers ought to take to heart in deciding how to move ahead in the Middle East.
It is far too early, of course, to tell whether what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere will result in regime change, leadership change, true democracy, or something else. But what is clear is that certain old truths about the Middle East, truths that were the basis of our old policies toward that world, no longer stand.

First, that the region is stagnant, people apathetic and autocratic regimes too entrenched to be challenged. Rather, small social changes -- such as new technologies, an increasingly savvy and outspoken youth -- are able to rock the foundations of even the most seemingly durable regime.

Second, that Islamists represent the only genuine social force in Arab lands, that it would be those who hold aloft the banner of Islam that would lead any popular uprising and hijack any democratic opening. Instead, what we are seeing is that Islamists are but a part of the protests, participating as one part of a movement that spans class and ideology, unified only by a desire for democracy and freedom.

Third, supporting reform in Egypt will jeopardize Israeli security. Israel's security depends on security and peace agreements with states that represent the interests of their people (not with states that repress their people in the name of upholding peace agreements with Israel). Decades of support for Arab leaders most friendly to Israel have failed to bring peace. A durable peace process is no longer about bi-lateral agreements with illegitimate Arab dictators (supported by the U.S.), rather real peace needs to reflect the interests of citizens in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Cairo.

Finally, that the West -- and especially the US -- can keep its friends in power. Ben Ali, after all, boarded a plane not because he had violated unwritten terms of alliance, but because his people had finally said enough.
It's that "third" that concerns me. A durable peace was never about bilateral agreements with illegitimate leaders, and that's why the the peace we've had with Egypt has been a cold peace all along. Will a new Egyptian government dump even that cold peace? I would say that the odds of that are pretty high. And what if Jordan goes the same way?

Keep this in mind: Even in the 'good days' of the Mubarak regime, all the war games scenarios involved attacking Israel.

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At 12:10 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - that's true but in those days, rational heads in Cairo thought twice of attacking Israel. A new new regime might not show the same restraint.

As bad as the Mubarak regime was and is, its definitely to be preferred to a far more radical successor one.


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