Israel's historic loss
The Arab revolutions spreading across the region are a death knell to Israel, Israeli analysts agree, writes Saleh Al-Naami
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Palestinians inspect a house damaged following an Israeli airstrike in the Bureij refugee camp, Gaza
With great secrecy, Isaac Molho -- special envoy of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu -- spent an entire week communicating with senior administration and congress officials in Washington, to deliberate joint coordination on the positions of Israel and Obama's administration regarding the democracy revolutions sweeping the Arab world. Although he did not reveal what was reached in talks, a pressing question poses itself in Washington and Tel Aviv about the impact of the Arab revolutions on relations between the two sides. Will these revolutions strengthen ties or weaken them?
According to heated debate in Israel on the matter, the answer to this question varies. Some believe that the revolutions in the Arab world that have toppled or weakened tyrannical regimes that cooperated with the US and the West means that Israel's value as a US strategic ally has risen significantly, because these developments have irrevocably proven that the US no longer has a stable ally who can be relied upon to protect US interests in the region except Israel.
Israel's former defence minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer asserted that after the ouster of president Mubarak's regime, which was considered the closest US ally in the region and the most willing to serve Israeli interests, other Arab regimes that are allies of the US cannot be trusted, such as Jordan, the Gulf States and Morocco.
Yoram Ettinger, of Ariel Centre for Policy Research, agrees with Ben Eliezer saying that the allies the US has lost in two months remind it of what it lost over decades: the regimes of the Shah in Iran and Turkey in the past, and today those in Egypt and Tunisia. "There are real concerns that the revolution will reach Jordan and topple the regime in Amman," wrote Ettinger in an article published in Yediot Aharonot. "If this happens, no doubt it will deal a severe blow not only to the US but even more for Israel."
Ettinger went on to list the assistance that Israel has provided the US at critical points in history, noting that when the US was preoccupied with its war in Vietnam, Israel intervened in 1970 to prevent Syria from toppling King Hussein's regime after he massacred the Palestinians in what is known as Black September. Ettinger also cited Israel's role in preventing Arab countries from becoming a powerful military force since this also represents a clear benefit for the US, remarking that Israel bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 and a nuclear facility in northeast Syria in 2006.
However, he continued, the most valuable contribution Israel has made to the US is in the intelligence sector. Senator Dan Inouye, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who previously served as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is quoted as saying that the intelligence data that Israel provides the US is more valuable than all the intelligence coming from NATO states combined.
Ettinger revealed that Israel has played and continues to play a major role in advancing the US's ability to confront resistance forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He specifically mentioned Israel's contribution in providing the US army with technology and technical and intelligence assistance that has enabled the US to improve its capability to avoid roadside bombs and booby-trapped vehicles. Israel has also provided valuable assistance in the pursuit and interrogation of resistance fighters.
But Zalman Shoval, Israel's former ambassador to Washington and a Likud leader, disagrees with Ettinger. Shoval believes that because the US quickly abandoned its ally, Mubarak, this will encourage the rest of its allies to reconsider their alliance with the US. He indicated that some leaders might turn to Iran if they feel they cannot rely on Washington in a time of crisis.
Unlike the majority of Israeli analysts, Shoval believes that the danger threatening US-Israeli relations are the Republicans, not the Democrats. He pointed out that Mike Huckabee, who might run as the Republican candidate for the presidency in the next election, has publicly said that in light of the dramatic developments in the Arab world the US must step back and stop interfering in foreign countries, and instead of spending money on ties with foreign countries it should invest it in development projects at home. Huckabee has even suggested stopping all economic and military aid to Israel.
Shoval argued that although there is a large majority in both the Republican and Democrat parties who enthusiastically support strong ties with Israel, it is not unlikely that many Americans could end up thinking like Huckabee.
The Marker, an Israeli financial newspaper, predicted that Israel would suffer an economic catastrophe after the fall of Mubarak's regime. In an extensive report, the newspaper said that Israel would have to cut spending in many civic sectors to cover rising security costs, which will gravely undermine the economic stability of the country. The article continued that the most critical economic repercussions of the ouster of the Mubarak regime are the devaluation of the Israeli currency, the shekel, and loss of confidence in Israel's economy.
Tsivi Leebya, an economics expert, contended that the departure of Mubarak's regime requires Israel to reassess its security situation. As Arab regimes around Israel fall, Leebya stated, decision-makers must review their priorities. In an article published in the Hebrew version of Yediot Aharonot, he argued that post-Mubarak Israel must tighten its purse strings and rescind some measures taken to ease burdens on Israelis, such as cutting taxes, and give priority to security expenditure over social expenditure. Leebya noted that the geopolitical aftershocks of the political earthquake in Egypt require Israel to review its entire budgeting.
He continued that these developments would decrease surplus national income that at the end of last year came to $20 billion. Israel was able to avoid the negative effects of the world economic crisis and at the time the governor of Israel Bank did not hesitate to buy dollars worth 70 billion shekels to stop the devaluation of the dollar in transactions inside Israel. Leebya urged that economic policy-makers in Israel must review their priorities in the 2011-2012 budget, saying that it is not unlikely that Israel will present a surplus budget to cover the costs of security, which will certainly increase.
Yediot Aharonot reported that the Knesset would withdraw its proposal to slash fuel prices because of reports that Egyptian natural gas will no longer be exported to Israel. The newspaper predicted certain deterioration in security conditions and a drop in tourism, which is a vital source of revenue for Israel. In fact, tourism in Israel had reached unprecedentedly high levels in 2010. Developments will likely result in cancellations of hotel bookings and trips by foreign businessmen to Israel. The publication further suggested that international tourism agencies would stop signing contracts with Israeli companies.
Ari Shavit, an Israeli intellectual, stated that the revolutions taking place in the Arab world clearly indicate that the Arab genie is out of the bottle. In an article in Haaretz on 24 February, Shavit noted that the "great Arab revolutions" are proof that a new agenda will rule the Arab world, and that the Arab people are breathing freedom after liberation from the shackles of fear. He commiserated the bad luck of the US, because it lost Egypt and Tunisia after it had lost Turkey, which means the end of the Arab moderate bloc in the face of Iran.
Shavit advised Obama's administration to win the hearts of the Arabs through military intervention in Libya, setting the precedent by which it can intervene in other areas in the future, such as Iran.
Israelis agree that democratic transformation in the Arab world will negatively affect Israel. The majority of analyses and reports in the Israeli media argue that the transformation of Arab regimes to democracies is a knockout blow to Israel, because democratic Arab regimes will be less tolerant of Israel. They would also be less willing to cooperate on security issues behind the scenes with Tel Aviv. On the other hand, dictatorships are more pragmatic and hypocritical by paying lip service to the Palestinians while brokering secret alliances with Israel.